Washington: The head of the World Health Organization has asked a panel of experts to consider whether the Rio Summer Olympics should be held as scheduled due to concerns it could spread the Zika virus.
The WHO sent teams of senior scientists to Brazil four times "to gather first-hand data on the current situation and assess the level of risk to the large number of athletes and spectators expected to attend the Olympic Summer Games," Director-General Margaret Chan wrote in a letter dated June 1.
She was responding to a request by US Senator Jeanne Shaheen to evaluate the public health hazards of holding the Games in August.
Shaheen posted Chan`s letter online Friday.
"Given the current level of international concern, I have decided to ask members of the Zika Emergency Committee to examine the risks of holding the Olympic Summer Games as currently scheduled," Chan said.
The WHO chief said the experts were due to meet "shortly," and vowed to post their advice online "immediately."
"The Olympic Games draw athletes and spectators from every corner of the globe and it`s important that we understand the global health implications," Shaheen said in a statement after receiving Chan`s letter.
Experts say Zika is to blame for a surge in cases in Latin America of microcephaly -- a serious birth defect in which babies are born with unusually small heads and brains.
Brazil has been especially hard-hit since Zika began spreading in South America last year, with nearly 1,300 babies having been born there with irreversible brain damage since then.
It has also been liked to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a potentially fatal neurological disorder.
The WHO had previously rejected a call from more than 200 international doctors to change the timing or location of the Rio Games, saying shifting the Games would not substantially alter the risks of Zika spreading globally.
The UN agency has recommended that women in areas where Zika is spreading delay getting pregnant, and that women who have had unprotected sex and do not wish to become pregnant should have "ready access to emergency contraceptive services and counseling."