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Health experts want 2016 Summer Games postponed or moved because of Zika virus

Health workers spray insecticide at Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome to kill mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus.
Health workers spray insecticide at Rio de Janeiro’s Sambadrome to kill mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus.
(Leo Correa / Associated Press)

A group of 150 professors, scientists and doctors have sent an open letter to the World Health Organization, insisting that lingering concerns about the Zika virus call for the 2016 Summer Olympics to be postponed or moved.

The Games are scheduled for Aug. 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro, which has been hit particularly hard by the outbreak.

“We make this call despite the widespread fatalism that the Rio 2016 Games are inevitable or ‘too big to fail,’ ” the letter states. “History teaches this is wrong.”

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The illness caused by the mosquito-borne virus is often mild but, in some cases, has been linked to neurological ailments and, when pregnant women are infected, birth defects.

WHO and Olympic officials believe the spread of Zika will subside by the time the Games are held in August because the mosquito population will decrease during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter.

The open letter to Dr. Margaret Chan, the WHO director, argues that while individual risk remains low, a percentage of the 500,000 tourists expected to attend the Games will take the virus back home, thereby accelerating its global spread.

The letter -- authored by professors in New York, Ottawa and Zurich, Switzerland -- also alleges a conflict of interest arising from the WHO’s long-time affiliation with the International Olympic Committee.

“WHO must revisit the question of Zika and postponing and/or moving the Games,” it declares.

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david.wharton@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesWharton

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