Zika virus
The Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes Jaime Saldarriaga/Reuters

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has told athletes and sporting staff that they should consider skipping the Rio Oympic games in August if they fear for their health over the Zika virus.

Sport federations were told that no one should go to Brazil "if they don't feel comfortable going". The message was relayed during a conference call in late January involving USOC officials and leaders of US sport federations. Donald Anthony, president and board chairman of USA Fencing, confirmed the message to Reuters on 8 February.

On 1 February the World Health Organisation declared an international health emergency as it was discovered that the mosquito-borne Zika virus had spiked in Brazil. The virus is believed to cause a birth defect that is marked by babies with abnormally small heads.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised pregnant women and women considering becoming pregnant to avoid travelling to places with Zika outbreaks, particularly countries in the Caribbean and Latin America. It is estimated that as many as four million people could be affected with the virus by the end of the year.

A survey conducted by Reuters on 8 February revealed that 41% of Americans who were aware of the disease are less likely to take a trip to Latin America or the Caribbean. The virus outbreak in Brazil causes concern for the organisers of the upcoming Olympics, which is due to be held in Rio in August.

USOC spokesperson Mark Jones confirmed that USOC's chief of sport performance, Alan Ashley, had briefed federation leaders on the CDC's recommendations, however, USOC has not issued any directions of its own at the moment.

Jones told Reuters: "We will continue to ensure that athletes and officials affiliated with Team USA receive any updates form the CDC."