(CN) – The World Health Organization said Friday it expects the Zika virus will be “way down” by the start of the 2016 Summer Olympics, hosted by Brazil later this year.
Brazil has been deeply affected by the virus, with over 1 million suspected cases since March 2015. It was also the first nation in Latin America to report potential Zika infections.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s executive director for outbreaks and health emergencies, said the Olympics will be played during Brazil’s winter, which will decrease the activity of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries of the virus.
“Brazil is going to have a fantastic Olympics and it’s going to be a successful Olympics and the world is going to go there,” Aylward said at the news conference. “I just wish I was going there, but there’s not going to be a lot of problems there by then, so I’ll be somewhere else.”
In addition to seasonal changes, Aylward also said the virus will likely have “gone through” a significant portion of the population by the time the games start on Aug. 5, allowing Brazilians to develop immunity.
Limited scientific progress has been made in developing vaccines and tests for the virus, and the connection between Zika and microcephaly in fetuses is still unproven. Aylward said clear scientific data describing the relationship between the virus and microcephaly could be developed by June, but that the existing evidence of a connection is strong.
“It will probably be four, five, six months,” Aylward said. “At this time, the virus is considered guilty until proven innocent.”
Aylward’s estimate coincides with a clinical trial that includes roughly 5,000 pregnant women who have tested positive for Zika. The trial began in October, and many of the women are expected to give birth around June.
However, Brazil’s problems go beyond Zika. The nation is dealing with its worst recession in a century, and President Dilma Rousseff is facing impeachment for her connection to a far-ranging corruption scandal over the state-controlled petroleum giant Petrobras.
Wealth and social inequality – and gang violence and drug trafficking within the country’s favelas, which have been described as shantytowns – have also drawn international attention.
But fear and uncertainty are not uncommon for the Olympics. Potential terrorism and security concerns at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and air pollution issues for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing were heavily publicized.
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