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Rio Olympics unlikely to have major impact on Zika spread, CDC says

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Rio Olympics are not likely to have a major impact on the spread of Zika virus, although four developing countries could face a substantially higher risk, according to a new government estimate.

U.S. researchers tried to calculate whether the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which is in the midst of a Zika epidemic, will lead to outbreaks that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. The danger is that infected travelers might be bitten by mosquitoes after return to their home nations, which would potentially spread Zika to other people and spark an outbreak.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 19 countries that currently do not have Zika have the right conditions for outbreaks if it is imported by people returning from the Olympics. But in only four of the 19 countries is the issue considered substantial: Yemen, at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, and Chad, Djibouti and Eritrea in Africa.

CDC researchers made their predictions based on a range of factors, including air travel patterns between Brazil and other countries and the presence of a tropical mosquito that is the main way Zika spreads to people.

The four nations at greatest risk from the Olympics generally have no or very few travelers to Zika outbreak countries. Only a dozen to several dozen people are expected to travel to the Rio games from each of these countries, but those small numbers represent a notable jump from regular traffic volume to outbreak countries, said the CDC’s Dr. Martin Cetron, one of the authors of the report.

That doesn’t mean health officials are predicting outbreaks in those four countries, Cetron added.

The Olympics are happening at a colder time of year in Rio, when mosquito activity is at a minimum. If people take precautions against mosquito bites, these four countries could be spared Olympics-related outbreaks, he said.

The Olympics and Paralympics are expected to draw an estimated 350,000 to 500,000 international visitors and athletes from 207 countries. But health officials say that travel this year will account for less than 1 percent of international travel to Zika outbreak countries.

Last month, the World Health Organization rejected calls by some to cancel the summer Olympics, saying there is a “very low risk” the Olympics will accelerate the spread of Zika around the world.

The new CDC report seems to confirm that assessment, said Justin Lessler, a Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist who focuses on computational approaches to predict the spread of disease.

“I think the most important result highlighted in this paper is how insignificant the additional risk of global Zika transmission caused by the Olympics is,” Lessler said, in an email.

Earlier this year, the WHO declared Zika a global emergency after seeing an epidemic spreading through Latin America and the Caribbean.

In most cases, Zika infections cause, at worst, mild symptoms that disappear within a week. But the WHO declaration was driven by a link between infections in pregnant women and the development of severe brain-related birth defects in their fetuses.

Health officials have advised pregnant women to avoid travel to Zika outbreak countries, including Brazil while the Olympics are taking place.

Zika can also be spread through sex, and health officials are advising condom use and other precautions for travelers.

MORE: Rio Olympic Committee: Zika not among top 10 concerns

WATCH LIVE: Nathan Chen in U.S. Figure Skating Championships free skate

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Nathan Chen tries to become the first man to win four straight U.S. figure skating titles since 1988, live on NBC Sports on Sunday.

NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of the men’s free skate for subscribers starting at 2:30 p.m. ET in Greensboro, N.C. NBC joins with TV coverage at 3.

LIVE STREAM: Men’s Free Skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Chen, a 20-year-old Yale sophomore, is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics. He can become the seventh man since World War II to win four straight national titles.

Five of the previous six went on to earn Olympic gold, including Dick ButtonScott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano in 1988.

Chen carries a substantial 13.14-point lead from Saturday’s short program, where he landed two quadruple jumps on one week of full training following a flu bout.

The anticipated drama Sunday comes in the battle for silver and bronze medals and the last two world championships team spots.

Jason BrownAndrew TorgashevVincent Zhou and Tomoki Hiwatashi are separated by 8.78 points. Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion, and Zhou, the 2019 World bronze medalist, are the only men in the field other than Chen with world team experience.

Key Skate Times
5:01 p.m. (ET) — Vincent Zhou
5:18 — Tomoki Hiwatashi
5:26 — Andrew Torgashev
5:35 — Nathan Chen
5:43 — Jason Brown

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Mikaela Shiffrin, with 66th World Cup win, moves one shy of career dream

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Mikaela Shiffrin has said one of her career dreams is to win in every discipline in one season. She is now one victory shy of realizing it.

Shiffrin earned her 66th World Cup victory — and her second in three days — at a super-G in Bansko, Bulgaria, on Sunday.

She prevailed by .29 of a second over Italian Marta Bassino and .70 over Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami. Gut-Behrami, the last skier other than Shiffrin to win a World Cup overall title back in 2016, earned her first podium in exactly one year.

Full results are here.

“Perfect weekend for me,” said Shiffrin, who moved one shy of recently retired Austrian Marcel Hirscher for third place on the World Cup career wins list. “The whole team is excited about the whole weekend, but especially today.”

She is en route to a fourth straight World Cup overall title. And she is a combined victory away from wins in all five disciplines in one season. Only Marc GirardelliPetra KronbergerJanica Kostelic and Tina Maze have done it.

“The thing that I’m most proud of right now is that I know how to win in slalom, [giant slalom], super-G and downhill, which I never expected that would really happen,” she said.

Shiffrin struggled with confidence during a winless stretch in early January, trying not to compare herself to last season, when she won a record 17 times. She still leads the men’s and women’s tours with six victories this season, a little more than halfway through.

“Every race is such a big fight, and I haven’t been the one on top of this fight every time,” she said. “Certainly I’ve been like sometimes the expectations that I have or that other people might have, I’m not quite living up to that. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like I’m failing sometimes, even though this is still just an incredible season.”

There are two combined races left this season for Shiffrin to achieve the dream — Feb. 23 in Switzerland and March 1 in Italy. While combined — mixing a speed run and a technical run — might seem perfect for Shiffrin, she has one victory in four starts in the discipline between the World Cup and Olympics.

And Shiffrin is careful about her race schedule. She is undecided on entering a downhill and super-G next weekend at the 2014 Olympic venue in Russia.

“After this weekend my brain is a little bit dead,” she joked.

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