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Researchers to study Zika infections in U.S. Olympic athletes

Researchers will study some U.S. athletes for potential Zika virus infections during the summer Olympics and Paralympics in Brazil, to better understand how the virus spreads.

The National Institutes of Health announced the study Tuesday in partnership with U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) amid concern among athletes over the mosquito-borne virus, which can cause severe birth defects.

"Zika virus infection poses many unknown risks, especially to those of reproductive age," Dr. Catherine Y. Spong, acting director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in a statement. "Monitoring the health and reproductive outcomes of members of the U.S. Olympic team offers a unique opportunity to answer important questions and help address an ongoing public health emergency."

There are worries about the Zika virus, a new... 03:25

International health officials have said pregnant women should skip the games and avoid travel to areas where the virus is spreading. But Zika can also sometimes be transmitted through sex and may persist in semen longer than blood.

A number of athletes from several countries, including top golfers Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, have opted out of the Rio Games, citing Zika worries.

The goal of the study is to "improve knowledge of the dynamics of Zika infection, so that we can better protect the health of athletes and staff who will participate in the 2016 Games," said lead researcher Dr. Carrie L. Byington, of the University of Utah. "This ongoing relationship also opens avenues for long-term research that promises to benefit not only the Americas, but also other regions facing the emergence of the virus."

With funding from the NIH, the researchers aim to enroll at least 1,000 athletes, coaches and staff. Participants will provide samples of bodily fluids for routine testing to help determine risk factors for infection, and where and how long the virus persists in the body.

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