An Olympic Mistake? – Thinking Properly about health!

The Rio Olympics will bring excitement, apprehension and joy to many of us over the next couple weeks but it is a worrying time for business managers. Managers have the added worry of the considering the time and money lost to those who ‘throw a sickie’ to watch the games.

If you listen to the media, then it is virtually impossible to not hear the concerns about risks of Zika Virus linked to Rio (and now even Florida!) as the key issue in worrying about travel to the Olympics.

BUT – as with many aspects of health this misses the simple fact that other less media grabbing issues are the real source of concern for travellers.

The main risks of travel to any exotic location are often the same – diarrhoeal illness from poor water quality and risks of being injured on the roads cause far more serious problems than Zika will. We need to put Zika virus in perspective, yes it is worth taking very seriously for those who may be likely to be pregnant as it does cause increased risk of serious birth defects – but for most others Zika is a minor infection no worse than a simple cold.

Far more worrying is water quality in Rio, where we know raw sewage is being actively pumped in to waters we encourage people to bathe, surf and sail in! Simple diarrhoeal infections are a real risk as are more serious water bourne infections such as Hepatitis A. Avoiding the worst areas, taking care to be fastidious about ensuring hand washing before eating and drinking only clean water from a known safe source are the key precautions – in Rio and many other well-known exotic holiday destinations.

Traffic conditions and driving standards can be very different in foreign cities – add a pina colada to dull the senses or potentially alter judgement and accidents become another major hazard. So be cautious when crossing roads or when hiring vehicles!

Next on my lists of hazards to place above Zika would be sunburn! Sunburn is more than simply painful – it can be life threatening if combined with heat illness and is the major risk factor for melanoma – a nasty and invasive skin cancer. …… and its preventable – being sensible about sunscreen and clothing can ensure a good time in the sun without the pain!

So surely bugs (infections or insects) do deserve worrying about – yes, but actually flu is more dangerous than Zika virus and it’s the flu season in the Southern Hemisphere for those visiting Rio. For most simple precautions such as hand washing (again!) or care to avoid sneezing (“catch it, bin it, kill it!) will be enough but if you are one of those with existing medical conditions (eg asthma or heart disease) – then a simple vaccination is a worthwhile precaution

For other virus’s dengue and the mouthful chikungunya virus are potential risks for travellers to Brazil. Dengue is spread by the same mosquito that carries Zika – so precautions to avoid mosquito bites are important.

And finally let’s not forget the risk associated with sex! Travellers (again often with guard let down by alcohol) can be a promiscuous lot and need reminding of the risks to health of sexually acquired infections.

But the reality for most employers concerned about the impacts of the Olympics – is the real worry is that employees will “throw a sickie” taking time off to watch their favourite sports. Being able to track absence and recognise the timing of key sports events is a powerful thing – enabling managers to have sensible conversations with employees and to recognise those that are likely offenders is important and will do far more to maintain business continuity than worrying about mosquitoes!