With Zika fears looming over Rio 2016, officials are hoping a new bug-spray partnership—the Olympic Games’ first ever—can assuage concerns about the mosquito-borne illness.
SC Johnson’s OFF! is now the official insect-repellent partner of the Olympic Games, the company said in a statement. As part of the deal, the US-based bug-spray brand, which has a facility in Brazil and is widely used there, will distribute thousands of bottles of OFF! to athletes, staff, and volunteers during the Olympic and Paralympic games that begin in Rio on Aug. 5 and Sept. 7, respectively. It will also be offered as samples and on sale in the Olympic Village. SC Johnson joins other brands including Airbnb, Microsoft, and Nike that will be offering up products and services for the games.
Concerns about the virus, which had infected an estimated 400,000 people as of June and has been linked to birth defects, have prompted several athletes, including high-profile US golfer Rory McIlroy (paywall), to pull out of the 2016 competition. It has also dampened the market for Olympic tickets.
SC Johnson began stepping up bug-spray production in Brazil last year because of high demand spurred by Zika fears, the company told Reuters in February. And it will make sure there is plenty of OFF! to go around in Rio during the games, Bloomberg reported.
Fears of the Zika virus seem to already have given the brand a sales bump. During mosquito season in Brazil and tourism season in the Caribbean, sales of OFF! products jumped 47% to 96% over the four-week period ending Jan. 24, compared to the same period a year earlier, Ad Age reported, citing estimates from the market-research firm IRI. The consumer-chemical maker is privately held and has not reported more recent sales figures.
As the Olympic committee works to reassure athletes and attendees that they’ll be safe in Rio, the US Olympic team will be helping scientists learn more about the disease. The US National Institutes of Health plans to study members of the US Olympic team while they’re in Rio to figure out what the risk factors for infection are. The NIH will teach the US athletes and staff about the virus, and monitor those who enroll in the study through health surveys and fluid samples. By monitoring any infections in these athletes, scientists hope to understand how long the virus persists in the body and what the reproductive outcomes are, among other things.
There is still a lot that’s unknown about the mosquito-borne illness, including exactly how many people have contracted it. Of the 400,000 that are suspected to have had the disease, only 56,000 infections have been confirmed. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania recently developed a less costly and cumbersome test for Zika, Quartz has reported, and hope it can be used to track the spread of the disease.