U of U scientists detail findings of Zika virus study conducted during Olympic Games

SALT LAKE CITY -- University of Utah scientists say they’ve made a surprise discovery about Olympic athletes who traveled to Brazil last year.

They ran a study to see if athletes or others involved in the games were infected with the Zika virus, and the findings are out.

The team just presented the findings on Saturday to experts from around the world at the annual Infectious Disease Society of America conference in California, medical director Marc Couturier said.

He said it’s one of the largest international conferences on infectious diseases.

The crew explained the study, which Couturier said focused on testing hundreds of athletes, training staff, delegates and family members before and after the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

When the games took place, he said the Zika virus was a huge concern. The World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a public health emergency in early 2016, with most cases in Brazil.

It wasn’t great timing for the games in Rio.

“We knew the virus was there,” Couturier said. “Were we going to have athletes coming back with the virus?”

He said if that happened, it would have had huge implications for health issues.

Couturier said he served as the director of testing at ARUP laboratories. After screening the blood samples for four mosquito-borne diseases, he said they were surprised at the findings.

The lab tested for Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and West Nile virus.

Results showed a very small number of people contracted dengue and chikungunya, he said.

A little more than two dozen tested positive for West Nile, though Couturier said most showed little to no symptoms.

“We were really surprised to see how much evidence of West Nile virus activity there was,” he said.

For Zika—he said they didn’t see a single case in the more than 450 people tested.

“We went in with a certain expectation and came out with the surprising finding that we really, none of us were thinking was going to be the story,” he said.

Even though the results indicated that Zika infection did not occur in those who traveled to Rio for the Olympics, Couturier said travelers should still safeguard against mosquitoes.