- More than 200,000 soldiers are being sent ‘house to house’ in Brazil in the battle against Zika-carrying mosquitoes
- They are to distribute leaflets and dispense advice, signalling a major ramping up of efforts against the Zika virus
- Although not deadly, the virus has been linked to cases of severe brain damage and birth defects in newborn babies
- Pregnant women are being told to avoid travelling to the affected 22 countries, including in Latin America and Africa
- Cases have also been reported in Europe, with four in Italy, three in Britain and two in region of Catalonia in Spain
Brazil has sent more than 200,000 troops to go ‘house to house’ in the battle against Zika-carrying mosquitoes, blamed for causing a birth defect epidemic that is spreading rapidly across the world.
Soldiers will visit homes across Brazil, distributing leaflets and dispensing advice, according to Health Minister Marcelo Castro, signalling a major ramping up of efforts against the Zika virus.
The government, under growing pressure to deal with the crisis, will also hand out repellent to at least 400,000 pregnant women on social welfare.
The virus has been linked to serious birth defects, including microcephaly, in which babies born to women infected during pregnancy have abnormally small heads. Concerns remain that the terrifying virus could become a global issue with Rio hosting the Olympics in the summer.
It comes as the World Health Organisation said that the virus, which is suspected causing horrific brain damage to babies, will spread throughout all countries in America except Chile and Canada.
‘Our investigation is on course to develop a better testing with respect to the prenatal transmission of the disease, and to better understand how the virus affects babies,’ said a spokesman for the organisation.
A surge in incidents across Latin America, notably in Brazil, has prompted the United States and other governments to warn pregnant women against traveling to the region – an alarming prospect for Brazil as it gears up to welcome the Olympics to Rio de Janeiro in August.
Cases of the virus have also been discovered in Europe – with three cases in Great Britain, four in Italy and two in Spain’s Catalonia region. The British travellers had picked up the disease after being bitten by mosquitoes while visiting Colombia, Suriname and Guyana.
All the cases so far discovered in Europe have been in people who recently returned from trips to Latin America or the Caribbean.
But experts now believe that the disease itself could potentially be spread within Italy by the Tiger Mosquito – which, although once native to Asia, is now widespread across southern Europe.
‘The disease could be carried by the Tiger Mosquito,’ Fabrizio Pregliasco, a virologist at the University of Milan, told La Repubblic
Helping hand: A pediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital examines 2-month-old Ludmilla Hadassa Dias de Vasconcelos, who has microcephaly
Insecticide is sprayed by workers in the Sambadrome today, ahead of a carnival performance where thousands of dancers will parade
Warning: The World Health Organisation said that the virus will spread across all countries in the Americas, except for Chile and Canada. Pictured, mother Mylene Helena Ferreira (centre) carries her five-month-old son David, who has microcephaly, in Recife, Brazil
Line-up: Brazilian Army soldiers walk while canvassing a neighbourhood in an attempt to eradicate the larvae of the mosquito which causes the Zika virus, while informing the public of preventive methods
Concern: Pregnant women have been warned not to travel to the 22 countries where outbreaks have been reported, as the Zika virus has been linked to microcephaly, in which babies born to women infected during pregnancy have abnormally small heads
‘The infected patient was then bitten by a Tiger Mosquito, and the Chikungunya virus was spread to over 200 people.’
He continued: ‘We need to isolate infected people and ensure that if they have the disease they don’t leave their homes to try and ensure they don’t pass to disease to a Tiger Mosquito.
‘It’s like a fire: if you put it out straight away it’s no problem, if not it can become a huge blaze.’
Pregnant women have been warned not to travel to the 22 countries where the infection has been reported, which include nations in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Oceania – but this could cause havoc for the upcoming Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
Unlike some other international health scares, the Zika virus is not spread person to person and people are only becoming infected after being bitten by mosquitoes. For most people who get infected, the flu-like symptoms will clear up in about a week.
But the specific threat to pregnant women and their foetuses, and the seeming impossibility of avoiding mosquitoes in tropical countries, has given this crisis extra gravity.
Brazil has recorded at least 3,893 microcephaly cases since an unusual spike in the rare condition was noticed in the country’s northeast in October. Previously an annual average of 160 cases was the norm.
Moving in: The government, under growing pressure to deal with the crisis, will also hand out repellent to at least 400,000 pregnant women on social welfare
Spreading: Cases of the virus have been discovered in countries across Latin America, in Africa and in Oceania. Pictured, five-month old David Henrique Ferreira, who has microcephaly, after having his bath
Growing: In the last four months, authorities have recorded close to 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants
Terrifying: Fears remain how Brazil will manage to contain the deadly virus, particularly when Rio hosts the Olympics in the summer
Fear: The specific threat to pregnant women and their foetuses, and the seeming impossibility of avoiding mosquitoes in tropical countries, has given the crisis extra gravity
22 COUNTRIES THAT ARE AFFECTED
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued initial travel warnings to pregnant women last week, adding eight more places to the list on Friday.
The warnings now extend to:
Central and South America: Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela
Caribbean: Barbados, Saint Martin, Haiti, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe
Africa: Cape Verde
And short of not getting pregnant, there is no foolproof method for avoiding risk.
Mr Castro said last week that the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries Zika and also dengue fever and the chikungunya virus, was gaining momentum.
Dr Dipti Patel, director at National Travel Health Network and Centre, warned: ‘All travellers, especially pregnant women going to the Americas, should ensure they seek travel health advice from their GP or a travel clinic well in advance of their trip.
‘We strongly advise all travellers to avoid mosquito bites and urge pregnant women to consider avoiding travel to areas where Zika outbreaks are currently reported.
‘If travel is unavoidable, or they live in areas where Zika is reported, they should take scrupulous insect bite avoidance measures both during daytime and nighttime hours.
‘Women who are planning to become pregnant should discuss their travel plans with their healthcare provider to assess the risk of infection with Zika and receive advice on mosquito bite avoidance measures.’
Dr Hilary Kirkbride, travel and migrant health expert at PHE, said: ‘The symptoms of Zika are similar to other mosquito-borne infections such as dengue, chikungunya and malaria so laboratory testing is essential for the correct diagnosis.
‘If you have recently returned from the Americas, including the Caribbean, and have a fever or flu-like illness, seek medical attention without delay to exclude malaria and mention your travel history.’
The Foreign Office advised Britons to seek advice before travelling anywhere where the virus has been reported in the last year ‘particularly if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant’.
Only a handful of Zika cases had ever been documented before 2013.