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Beverly Hills, Calif. • Preparing for her fourth go in a Summer Olympic Games this August in Rio de Janeiro, American swimming star Natalie Coughlin said each four-year cycle presents its own set of issues.
The outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in Brazil and the rest of Latin America is the major talking point ahead of the 2016 Summer Games less than five months away. It was the first question posed Monday morning at the U.S. Olympic Media Summit.
"There's always things that are beyond our control at the Olympic Games," said Coughlin, a 12-time Olympic medalist. "This is just one of them."
Now deemed an epidemic in Central and South America, the rapid spread of Zika caused the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the virus a global health emergency. The illness causes mild flu-like symptoms, but 80 percent of those infected never actually show symptoms. A potential side effect is believed to be abnormally small heads in newborns, also known as microcephaly.
The concern over both how quickly and how far the virus has spread in recent months has led to public trepidation ahead of the Rio Games, set to take place Aug. 5-21.
Scott Blackmun, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said the organization is currently working closely with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Center of Disease Control (CDC) and WHO to constantly provide American athletes with the most up-to-date information regarding the disease.
"We want to communicate and educate," Blackmun said Monday. "It's their Olympic Games. They're the ones who qualify for it."
Plans to mitigate scenarios on the ground in Rio are already in place, too. Blackmun said the USOC will supply mosquito netting and insect repellent and will stress the importance of avoiding standing water, all of which can lessen the likelihood of infection.
"It is going to be up to each individual athlete to make his or her decision on whether or not they're going to attend," he said. "I'm not aware of a single athlete that has made a decision not to attend because of any conditions."
On March 4, the USOC announced the formation of an infectious disease advisory group ahead of the Rio Games, likely taking aim at Zika and other health issues before August. The chair of that group is Dr. Carrie Byington, an expert in the viral and bacterial infections at the University of Utah.
The CDC recently advised pregnant women to consider not traveling to Zika-infected areas, including Brazil. The organization has also strongly advised that travelers use insect repellent in outbreak regions. Asked if Zika is causing any extra alarm, rower Gevvie Stone said simply, "I am not planning on getting pregnant anytime soon."
Coughlin, 33, said athletes should study the disease, which she believes should lead to better prevention.
"I've been to parts of Africa where there's malaria rampant," she said. "You treat your clothes, you wear bug spray and you do it."
Various high-profile American Olympians have weighed in on the epidemic lately.
U.S. women's goalkeeper Hope Solo said if the Olympics were right now, she'd choose not to go. The most decorated Olympian ever, swimmer Michael Phelps, told The Associated Press last week he will be going to Brazil with his fiancee and their newborn son.
Golfer Stacy Lewis was in Thailand two weeks ago on the LPGA Tour where nerves around the spread of Zika are high, too.
The 31-year-old said the concern is worldwide not specific to Brazil and Rio. As most athletes said Monday, Lewis said it's too early to make a decision on whether or not the spread of the virus will change their long-awaited Olympic plans.
"We play places around the world where you can't drink the water and you have to use bottled water to brush your teeth and all that stuff," she said. "That's just a normal thing for us. A lot of this talk about things being bad in Rio? It's what we do every week."