Eugene - Aries Merritt said Wednesday he plans to compete at next month's Olympics despite advice from doctors who fear the sprint hurdler's weakened immune system following a kidney transplant could leave him susceptible to the Zika virus.
Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion in the 110 meter hurdles, has made a remarkable comeback after undergoing a kidney transplant last September, just four days after winning a bronze medal at the World Championships in Beijing.
The 30-year-old world record-holder is aiming to seal his ticket to Rio de Janeiro this week at the US Olympic track and field trials in Oregon.
However, Merritt revealed his bid to compete in Brazil went against the wishes of the medical team that has been managing his recovery, fearing that the mosquito-borne Zika virus could pose a risk to the sprinter.
"They are really concerned about the whole Zika thing because I am immune suppressed so I am susceptible to infection a lot more easier than other people," Merritt said when asked about his doctors' concerns.
"They are very, very concerned. They have asked many times 'Have you considered not going?' and I said, 'Well that's not an option - if I make it I'm going.' It troubles them a lot. It does."
Brazil has been at the epicenter of the Zika outbreak, with the virus linked to the birth defect microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads.
The disease has also been tied to the nervous disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Although a slew of top golfers, including Rory McIlroy, have pulled out of the Olympics citing Zika, Brazilian officials say the risk of infection is on the wane as temperatures in Brazil drop.
Merritt said while he had been given advice to wear long sleeve clothing and use insect repellent, he believed the risks from Zika were overblown.
"We have Zika here in America and if I haven't gotten it yet I don't think it's a big deal," he said.
"Whenever you go to any major sporting event, whether it's an Olympic Games or a Super Bowl, there's always some controversy," he said.
"With London it was like 'Oh they're not going to be ready, they don't have the staff.' And then London was the best Olympic games ever. I really don't think it's a big deal."