Tim Thackrey is willing to sweat – a lot – to be safe at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The Fresno strength and conditioning coach intends to wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and be covered in mosquito repellent for the six days he will be at the Games in August.
Thackrey, 36, doesn’t want to take any chances of contracting Zika from a mosquito bite and infecting his wife, Carly Thackrey, who is pregnant and due to give birth to their first child in September.
Zika is spread by mosquitoes and also is spread sexually. The infection can cause devastating birth defects that include microcephaly, in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and brain damage. It also has been linked to neurological problems in adults.
Tim Thackrey said he is nervous about traveling to Brazil and will take every precaution while there and when he returns to stay safe and keep his wife and unborn daughter unharmed.
He is going to the Olympics only because he has three taekwondo athletes competing. “It’s something we’ve worked a long, long time to do.”
Whether traveling to Brazil or not, pregnant women and their sexual partners in the central San Joaquin Valley have reason to be edgy about Zika this summer.
Health officials warn that Brazil is not the only hotbed for the virus: 60 countries and territories report continuing mosquito-borne transmissions. And there are outbreaks in 46 countries, many in Latin America and the Caribbean, which are popular travel destinations for people from the Valley.
If your travel is not really urgent, it’s better to postpone travel.
Dr. Al Saghbini, Fresno County Department of Public Health
The concern doesn’t end with out-of-country travel, either. Aedes aegypti, one of the two mosquito species that spread the virus, has become established in the United States, including in Fresno and Clovis. So far, no one has acquired the virus from a local mosquito bite, but health officials are wary, saying all it will take is for a person who is infected in a foreign country to come home and be bitten by a mosquito that spreads the virus.
Since the Zika virus outbreak in Latin America began in 2015, there have been 57 travel-associated cases of Zika reported in California as of Friday. Fresno County has had no reported cases, but has tested 19 people for Zika. Eleven were pregnant women. None tested positive for the virus.
The rapid spread of Zika makes it extremely important for individuals to protect themselves from mosquito bites when traveling to regions where the virus is active, said Dr. Al Saghbini, infectious disease specialist and communicable disease controller at the Fresno County Department of Public Health. Repellents are safe for pregnant women and for women who are breast-feeding, he said.
The safest plan, though: “If your travel is not really urgent, it’s better to postpone travel.”
Be safe at home
And travelers should be conscientious upon their return home.
Any traveler to a Zika area should use mosquito repellent for three weeks once home to prevent local transmission, Saghbini said.
The federal Food and Drug Administration also recommends that people who have been infected or have had potential exposure to infection not donate blood, tissue or organs for a prescribed amount of time.
The discovery that Zika can be sexually transmitted has heightened concern about the disease, making it important for pregnant women, those who are planning pregnancy and sexual partners of women to take special precautions.
The World Health Organization has said pregnant women should not travel to areas with ongoing Zika transmission, and pregnant women’s sex partners returning from areas where the virus is circulating should practice safer sex or abstain from sex throughout the pregnancy.
The recommendation for men who travel to areas with Zika is to have protected sex for at least eight weeks. Men who have symptoms of Zika need to have protected sex for six months, Saghbini said. “The virus could last in body fluids for some time, even after symptoms have subsided.”
So far, transmission of the virus appears to be mainly from male to female, but women who have symptoms should have protected sex for eight weeks.
We will protect ourselves as much as we can.
The virus has been detected in saliva, so intimate contact such as deep kissing could come into question. “Intimate contact of any sort is potentially risky,” said Dr. Jeffrey Thomas, an obstetrician/gynecologist with offices in downtown Fresno and Clovis.
The Thackreys plan to follow safety recommendations.
“We will protect ourselves as much as we can,” Carly Thackrey said.
She is apprehensive about her husband’s trip to Brazil, but she knows the pull that taekwondo has on him. In 2003, Tim Thackrey won a gold medal at the Pan American Games and came close to being an Olympian in 2004 and 2008. He now works with athletes in his online fitness and workout business called The Juice Athlete Compound.
Taekwondo is a bond they share. They met years ago when they had the same coach. And together, they ran a CrossFit gym in Burbank before moving to Fresno to be close to relatives and to start a family.
Tim Thackrey, who attended Clovis West High School, is the son of Misha and Noreen Thackrey, who operate a martial arts studio in Fresno. His mother captured a gold in the Senior Masters’ division at the World Taekwondo Championships in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Carly Thackrey has followed the fitness and workout regime of the three Olympics-bound athletes trained by her husband. She appreciates how hard they’ve fought to go to the Games and a coach’s desire to be there for them.
The understanding makes it easier to let him go to Rio, she said. “But not totally easy.”
If he could be tested when he returned to rule out an infection, she would feel better.
There are urine and blood tests to detect Zika, but the federal government recommends the test for people who have symptoms after potential exposure to the virus. The exception: Pregnant women who have been to areas where Zika is circulating should be tested, regardless of symptoms.
Symptoms mimic the flu
The tricky part: Zika typically causes only mild illness. If there are symptoms, they can mimic the flu – fever, muscle aches, red eyes and rash.
But anyone returning from a Zika area who has at least one of the four symptoms should be tested, Saghbini said.
Zika symptoms are similar to other mosquito-borne viruses, including dengue. And it’s important to avoid use of aspirin or ibuprofen to reduce fever until a Zika infection has been confirmed, Saghbini said. The blood-thinning drugs are not recommended for dengue patients.
Zika was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in monkeys.
Zika was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in monkeys. Human infections were first discovered in 1952, but the first large outbreak did not occur until 2007 on the Island of Yap, according to the World Health Organization. It wasn’t until July 2015 in Brazil that the virus was associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults, which can cause nerve damage and paralysis. And in October 2015 the link was established between the virus and microcephaly.
A lot remains to be learned about Zika and its effects on a fetus and potential neurological damage to adults, Sagbhini said. A major study in Brazil that followed 88 pregnant women, however, found about one-third who were infected with Zika had fetuses that were abnormal, he said.
“If a mom is confirmed to have Zika infection, it’s very important to do ultrasounds to make sure the baby is not affected,” he said. Microcephaly, in which the skull bones of the baby fuse prematurely, is at the top of the list of abnormalities, but Zika also has been linked to sight and hearing problems.
Even women who become infected late in pregnancy have the potential to deliver a child with fetal anomalies, Saghbini said.
Since Zika has been on the radar of Americans for only the past eight months, Fresno-area obstetrician Thomas said he appreciates getting information from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that he can provide to patients.
People are worried, he said. A dozen times a week he gets asked about Zika. Most questions come from pregnant patients.
Thomas said he tries to help patients put their concerns into perspective. When pregnant women who have been bitten by mosquitoes in Clovis are alarmed, he is relieved to be able to tell them that there has not been a local transmission of Zika here or anywhere in the United States. A baby born with microcephaly on May 31 in New Jersey was delivered by a Honduran woman who had been infected with Zika in her home country. The baby girl was the first to be born with microcephaly in the continental United States.
However, Thomas said the virus is well-established in Latin America, and “we do have in California a frequent migration of travelers to Cancun and to different parts of Mexico. People like to go to Costa Rica. Those areas are all considered active Zika areas.”
For patients who plan to travel to Zika areas, Thomas said he advises them to follow the recommendations for preventing transmission, including using insect repellent.
He will be following the rules himself this summer. Thomas and his family will be in the Caribbean nation of Grenada, where he attended medical school and where a daughter is taking a pre-medical school program.
But Thomas cautions pregnant patients that bug sprays don’t always work. “They should be very careful how they make their travel arrangements.”
Tim Thackrey plans to stay indoors as much as possible in Rio, going straight from his hotel room to an indoor arena. “It’s not a sightseeing trip. I’m there for business,” he said.
As for other precautions to avoid insect bites, he may sleep under a mosquito net – “whatever I can do to keep mosquitoes away.”