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USMNT to play in Puerto Rico; should Zika virus be a concern?

Guatemala v United States - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifer

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29: Clint Dempsey #8 of the United States Men’s National Team takes control of the ball in the second half in front of Carlos Castrillo #13 and Rodrigo Saravia #22 of Guatemala during the FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

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The U.S. national team has announced they will play a friendly at Puerto Rico on May 22 in Bayamon.

However with the ongoing Zika virus situation in the region, should players and fans of U.S. Soccer be concerned about making the trip for the pre-Copa America Centenario tune-up?

In a word. Yes.

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According to the latest records, Puerto Rico has 445 confirmed cases of Zika and 94 percent of the cases were contracted on the island. The virus is contracted through mosquito bites and sexual intercourse and the symptoms most associated with it include having a fever and joint pain. The biggest threat of Zika is to pregnant women with the virus connected to causing severe birth defects.

George Chiampas, U.S. Soccer’s Chief Medical Officer, gave the following statement to ProSoccerTalk when asked about how the USMNT were preparing for the trip to Puerto Rico.

“The safety of our athletes and staff is always the highest priority and we are taking all necessary precautions in regard to the Zika virus,” Chiampas said. “We have been closely monitoring the situation in collaboration with the CDC, IOC and USOC and will provide the most up to date information to our athletes and staff.”

In a related situation, players of both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins have voiced their concerns in recent days as the two Major League Baseball franchises are due to play a two-game series, also in Bayamon, on May 30-31.

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According to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, players and officials from both teams are concerned about contracting the virus and bringing it back to the U.S.

More from Biertempfel:

“According to the CDC, Zika can cause a birth defect called microcephaly, which causes infants to be born with very small heads and underdeveloped brains. The virus is spread by mosquito bites and sexual intercourse.”

“Right now, we don’t want to go down there because there is too much risk,” Pirates reliever Tony Watson said Thursday. “But we don’t have all the facts yet, either. We’ll see where it goes.”

“If you go down there and bring back one case (to the United States), it’s a disaster,” Watson said. “We don’t want that to happen.”

The CDC has logged 358 travel-related cases of Zika virus disease in the U.S., including 12 in Pennsylvania. There are 82 incidences of travel-related disease in Florida and 29 in California.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a travel notice for Puerto Rico and says that “local mosquito-borne transmission of Zika virus has been reported in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.”

That begs the question: why are the U.S. heading to Puerto Rico?

Jurgen Klinsmann’s side already have friendlies lined up against Ecuador in Dallas on May 25 and Bolivia in Kansas City on May 28, while they will train in Miami from May 16 and the final squad for the Copa America must be submitted on May 20, before these three friendlies take place.

Klinsmann’s side have been drawn in Group A of the Copa America tournament, with group games against Colombia in Santa Clara on Jun. 3, Costa Rica in Chicago on Jun. 7 and Paraguay in Philadelphia on Jun. 11.

According to the CDC, no locally acquired cases of Zika has been detected in the United States of America.

This isn’t scaremongering but rather taking notice of the situation developing in Puerto Rico.

Like the MLB players, it is likely that players on the USMNT will be eager to find out all of the details before they agree to travel to an area which has seen a substantial breakout of this virus.

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