With the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games less than three months away, eleven US Senators sent a letter today to U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) Chairman Lawrence Probst asking “what steps the USOC is taking to assist and protect our athletes against the spread of the Zika virus.”


According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Brazil is the epicenter for the spread of the virus with at least 120,000 suspected cases of Zika – nearly half of all the suspected cases in the Americas.

“We hope that the USOC is prepared to work with health authorities both here in the United States and in Brazil to help ensure that all the necessary steps are taken to protect our athletes as they compete this summer,” the Senators wrote in the letter.

Related: CDC travel advice for Olympics, ‘Zika outbreak in Brazil is dynamic’

The Zika virus is transmitted via bites from the same kinds of mosquitoes that carry dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya, and can also be transmitted through sexual intercourse. In most cases the symptoms of Zika are mild, but increasing data has shown that the virus can cause serious health issues. Research has linked the virus to severe birth defects, including microcephaly in babies born to infected mothers, as well as possible neurological effects and paralysis in adults. The outbreak could infect up to four million people.

Signing the letter included U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Angus King (I-ME), Bob Casey (D-PA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Christopher Murphy (D-CT) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).