Carrie L. Byington, M.D., FAAP, is preparing to take part in the Summer Olympics, but her training regimen doesn’t involve swimming laps in the pool or balancing on a beam.
The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has chosen Dr. Byington to lead its new Infectious Disease Advisory Group, which will provide guidance to athletes and staff traveling to Brazil where Zika virus is spreading.
“I’m very honored to be picked and really proud to serve Team USA. … This is a unique opportunity to try to help them have the safest experience possible while they’re representing the country at the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” said Dr. Byington, who also chairs the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases (COID).
Carrie L. Byington, M.D., FAAP, has been chosen to lead the United States Olympic Committee's Infectious Disease Advisory Group. Photo courtesy of Carrie Byington
The position is a one-year volunteer role working with Randy Taplitz, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, and Capt. Martin S. Cetron, M.D., director of the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine at the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“All three doctors are world-class physicians and experts in the field of infectious disease,” USOC Managing Director of Sports Medicine Bill Moreau, D.C., D.A.C.B.S.P., said in a news release. “Our in-house medical team are some of the best in the world at what they do, but having access to, and relying upon, the kind of outside expertise represented by this advisory group is just another way we can make sure our athletes and staff have what they need to be well and compete at a high level.”
Dr. Byington, the H.A. and Edna Benning presidential professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah, said the committee wanted an infectious disease expert who also worked with children since Zika has been linked to birth defects. It also sought a woman because many of the questions have come from female athletes. She not only fit that bill, she also is no stranger to Olympic preparations, providing guidance to health officials in Salt Lake City when they hosted the Olympics in 2002 amid anthrax fears.
“We train so long and we want to contribute to our field,” she said. “This is a unique opportunity to do that.”
The athletes also have been training for years, and the U.S. Olympic Committee has said they will decide for themselves whether to travel to Brazil.
The advisory group is answering questions for them that have focused on conception and Zika’s risks to unborn infants. It also is creating educational material to guide athletes and staff on issues like protection from mosquito bites and strategies to prevent unintended pregnancy. Those materials ultimately could help guide athletes in other countries as well, Dr. Byington said.
Zika has been on Dr. Byington’s radar since last summer and was a topic of discussion at COID’s fall meeting. She also has worked with the CDC to develop guidance for pediatricians.
“Having this relationship between the AAP and the Centers for Disease Control really helps prepare us because we are talking to the leaders in the field, they know what’s going on in different countries because they’re sending their experts there … and we get to bring that information back to our membership and I think that’s really valuable,” she said.
Whether or not she travels to Brazil herself, she hopes to amass even more research to share with her colleagues after her Olympic experience, especially because Zika is expected to start circulating in the continental U.S.
“I think there will be some great opportunities to learn about Zika virus and that’s important for all children,” she said. “So if we can learn some things by working with the U.S. Olympic Committee and the travelers who will go to Brazil, it may better prepare us to deal with Zika virus in the United States.”