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Latin America

Brazil mobilizes 220,000 troops to help fight Zika virus

The offensive comes weeks before Rio de Janeiro will host its Carnival celebrations

Virus zika
Rio health workers on Tuesday fumigate the Sambódromo, where Carnival celebrations will be held. EFE

Brazil has announced that it will mobilize some 220,000 troops in a bid to eradicate the Zika virus, which is spreading fast through countries in the Americas.

The virus, which is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, can cause serious birth defects in unborn infants, according to health officials.

The US Center for Disease Control in Atlanta has asked pregnant women to reconsider traveling to 21 nations and territories where the mosquito-borne virus has been reported.

Brazil’s offensive comes just weeks before Rio de Janeiro will host its world-famous Carnival celebrations.

“Brazil is losing the battle against the mosquito,” Health Minister Marcelo Castro said last week

Officials said they will begin distributing mosquito repellent to some 400,000 pregnant women who receive government aid.

“Brazil is losing the battle against the mosquito,” Health Minister Marcelo Castro said last week. He had warned of the epidemic last October when the first cases were detected.

Unlike dengue and chikungunya, which produces high fevers and body aches and is also transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, Zika virus symptoms are not as severe.

But doctors believe that unborn infants are most at risk after they discovered a rise in microcephaly – a rare birth defect that can cause babies to be born with unusually small heads and continues to cause developmental problems in later life.

Brazilian health authorities reported they have detected 3,893 cases of microcephaly since October.

It is not clear what role the military will play in its eradication efforts. Some cities, such as Rio, have begun fumigating certain neighborhoods as it gears up to welcome millions to Carnival celebrations.

Brazilian health authorities reported they have detected 3,893 cases of microcephaly since October

The government estimates that 80% of mosquito breeding grounds are located inside homes, where water tends to gather in plant pots, abandoned tires, open bottles and other standing containers.

According to the Brazilian Health Ministry, the soldiers will provide support and replace fumigation teams as well as handing out information to the public about the mosquito and its consequences.

There are no official figures as to how many Brazilians are infected with the Ziki virus. One government study estimates that there could be between 497,000 and 1.4 million infected throughout the country.

But there are concerns that the numbers could rise between the February and May rainy season, which would help the mosquito population proliferate.

Government officials are also worried about the Olympic Games, which will be held in Rio in August. Brazil will welcome visitors from all over the world who may be more susceptible because they have never been in contact with any mosquito-borne viruses.

English version by Martin Delfín.