By Gene Cherry

EUGENE, Oregon (Reuters) - Defending Olympic champion and high hurdles world record holder Aries Merritt says he will not skip the Rio Games if he makes the U.S. team even though the Zika virus poses a greater risk to the kidney transplant recipient than other competitors.

Merritt, less than a year removed from a kidney transplant, said his concerned doctors have suggested he steer clear of the Aug. 5-21 Rio Olympics because of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

"They have asked me many, many times: 'Have you considered not going?'" Merritt, who begins competition at the U.S. Olympic trials on Friday, told a news conference on Wednesday. "That's not an option. If I make it (the team) I am going."

Merritt, who was told he would never run again after being diagnosed with kidney disease in 2013, received a transplant from his sister last September and had a follow-up procedure in October due to complications.

Brazil has been hardest hit by the Zika virus which can cause potentially severe birth defects in babies whose mothers were infected during pregnancy, including microcephaly - a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to developmental problems.

It has also been linked to Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that can cause temporary paralysis in adults.

But the 30-year-old Merritt, who won a bronze medal at last year's world championships just days before his transplant, is willing to take the risk.

"There are all kinds of things that can be traced back to the Zika virus," said Merritt, who plans to take plenty of precautions like wearing long sleeves, applying insect repellent and staying indoors as much as possible.

"We have Zika here in America. If I haven't gotten yet, I don't think it is a big deal."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)