Two support staff members with the Canadian Olympic team will not be travelling to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics amid worries over the Zika virus, said Dr. Robert McCormack, the Canadian Olympic Committee's chief medical officer.
Both staff members are planning for families, McCormack said in an interview, and worry about the risk posed by the mosquito-borne virus that has been linked to severe birth defects. All Canadian athletes will be attending the Games, he said.
Canadian Olympic officials maintain that the risk of Zika infection is low among its 370 delegates, a mix that includes athletes, coaches and medical staff.
But in an open letter last month, 150 health professionals and academics urged the World Health Organization to delay or move the Rio Games. "An unnecessary risk is posed when 500,000 foreign tourists from all countries attend the Games, potentially acquire that strain, and return home to places where it can become endemic," the letter said.
The WHO, however, said delaying or moving the Games would not "significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus."
On Wednesday, Irish golf star Rory McIlroy announced he was pulling out from the Rio Games over concerns about the virus. Athletes from the United States, Australia and South Africa have also opted out because of Zika, which broke out in Brazil in early 2015 and has since reached epidemic levels in South America.
In a statement on Wednesday, the COC said Zika is "relatively benign" and recommends pregnant women not travel to Rio de Janeiro. The COC is adhering to WHO guidelines that say no restrictions should be placed on travel in the 58 countries where Zika has been found.
"Team Canada's medical team is monitoring all health risks in and around Rio in anticipation of the upcoming Games, and is taking appropriate steps to ensure our athletes can compete without worries," the COC statement read.
McCormack called Zika a "pretty minor problem" for athletes and staff, who will contend with water-quality issues and riskier viruses such as traveller's diarrhea. "Our feeling is that it's been a bit overplayed by a few individuals," he said.
Zika produces mild symptoms for several days, including skin rashes, joint pain and headaches, and requires no specific treatment. Canadian athletes and staff have been warned to take the usual precautions to avoid mosquito bites, and most will be housed in climate-controlled village accommodation with catered food and will travel to and from venues in air-conditioned buses.
Sprint kayaker Émilie Fournel, a second-generation Olympian competing in her third Games, said she isn't overly worried about contracting Zika.
"I have complete confidence in the Canadian Olympic Committee," the 29-year-old Montreal native said in an e-mail. "They have provided all the information we need to allow us to compete to the best of our abilities, and they've made every effort over the past few months to make sure we feel safe."
In a statement on Wednesday, McIlroy acknowledged Zika's low risk but said it's a "risk I'm unwilling to take." The four-time major champion said he and his fiancée are considering starting a family in the near future.
"After speaking with those closest to me, I've come to realize that my health and my family's health comes before anything else," McIlroy said.
The Zika outbreak falls among a spate of controversies plaguing the Rio Games, including poor water quality, a costly subway expansion that's yet to be finished and the death of two cyclists in April following the collapse of a newly built bike path.
With a file from Sean Gordon