Published: June 10, 2016

MSU Olympic experts available to talk Zika, water and other concerns

Contact(s): Sarina Gleason Media Communications office: (517) 355-9742

This year will mark the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics and with it comes several public health concerns for athletes and spectators alike. With the opening ceremonies just around the corner, Michigan State University has experts available to speak about the important issues surrounding this year’s games.

Ned Walker, professor of entomology and microbiology, is an expert in emerging infectious diseases such as the Zika virus.

"The Zika virus epidemic underway in South America and the Caribbean basin threatens to expand into the southern United States because the same mosquito that transmits the virus is found in these warmer places. It is unlikely that Zika virus can spread as far north as Michigan because of cold winters, however, travelers to the endemic regions where Zika exists are at risk of exposure and could bring the virus back anywhere in the U.S.”

Walker can be reached at (517) 884-5389 or

Jade Mitchell, assistant professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering, is an expert on human health risk analysis when it comes to contamination in the environment through water, soil, etc.

“It’s been well established that raw sewage exists in Rio’s waterways and with that multiple pathogens exist. Health risks associated with water-related activities like bathing, swimming and sailing in these contaminated waters are influenced by direct and indirect ingestion rates. We determine the right interventions to take based on these risks.”

She can be reached at (517) 353-4544 or

Saulo Gouveia, associate professor of Portuguese, is an expert in Brazilian culture, with a personal interest in the current political unrest there.

"The Dilma Rousseff administration has always suffered strong opposition and her re-election by a narrow margin in 2014 was widely contested. But what detonated the current political crisis was the corruption scandal involving the Brazilian state oil company, Petrobras. Ironically, the same politicians that opened up the impeachment process are also accused of the same alleged crimes. Therefore, the current political crisis encompasses a deep crisis of legitimacy of both the government and the opposition."

He can be reached at (517) 884-6328 or

Deborah Feltz, a University Distinguished Professor in kinesiology, is an expert in sports psychology. She has worked with athletes on how to mentally prepare for competition, even when dealing with outside factors that might interfere with how they compete.

“Athletes always have external challenges to face, whether they be altitude, weather, time changes, pollution, etc. The best athletes accept the obstacles in front of them and focus on the immediate task at hand. They are able to tune out distractions, stress and anxiety to stay focused on what they need to accomplish their goals, even in Rio and all that’s going on there.”

She can be reached at (517) 355-4732 or

Jeff Kovan is the director of Sports Medicine and Performance, a team physician for MSU basketball and soccer, and an expert on concussions, which recently have taken the spotlight on professional and youth soccer fields.

“Concussions have always been around in soccer, but now people are more aware of it happening beyond the football field. With soccer, there’s often a misconception. Concussions happen more frequently because of head-to-head contact, not just the ball hitting the head. Despite this, people need to be more aware of signs and symptoms, no matter how the injury happens.”

He can be reached at (517) 884-6100 or

Tracey Covassin, associate professor in kinesiology, is an expert in the effects of concussions, especially in female athletes, and the epidemiology of sports injuries.

“Female athletes tend to incur sports-related concussions with surface or ball contact, while male athletes tend to sustain their concussion injuries from contact with another player. Males also may ‘play through pain’ and hide their symptoms. Research has shown that male college athletes were three times more likely to not disclose their sports-related concussions compared to females.”

She can be reached at (517) 898-5815 or

Robert Kolt, instructor of advertising and public relations, is an expert in television advertising and analyzing and rating Super Bowl commercials, as well as evaluating other sponsorships related to events such as the Olympics.

“At this moment, big money sponsors have been committed to the games for a long time. Sponsors may worry, but I doubt they will run away from the Olympics in large numbers because of any political problems in Brazil. The games simply deliver a huge audience and the show will go on. Anyone who has been to Rio knows it is an ultimately great place to be.”

He can be reached at (517) 706-0001 or

Mark Wilson, professor of urban planning, is an expert in the planning, land use and economic issues associated with mega events such as the Rio Olympics.

"A successful Olympics is not one that only produces world class athletes, it is one that also produces an improved and livable city as its legacy."

He can be reached at (517) 353-9056 or