RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil’s health minister says the country will mobilize some 220,000 troops to battle the mosquito blamed for spreading a virus linked to birth defects, but he also was quoted Tuesday as saying the battle already is being lost.
Castro said that nearly 220,000 members of Brazil’s Armed Forces would go door-to-door to help in mosquito eradication efforts, according to Rio de Janeiro’s O Globo newspaper. It also quoted Castro as saying the government would distribute mosquito repellent to some 400,000 pregnant women who receive cash-transfer benefits.
And all major Brazilian dailies quoted Castro as saying the country is “badly losing the battle” against the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
“The mosquito has been here in Brazil for three decades, and we are badly losing the battle against the mosquito,” Folha de S. Paulo newspaper quoted him as saying as a crisis group on Zika was meeting in the capital, Brasilia.
Emails to Castro’s office for comment were not immediately been answered.
Worry about the rapid spread of Zika has expanded across the nation, and the hemisphere beyond.
Repellent has disappeared from many Brazilian pharmacies and prices for the product have tripled or even quadrupled where it’s still available in recent weeks since the government announced a suspected link between Zika virus and microcephaly, a rare birth defect that sees babies born with unusually small heads and can cause lasting developmental problems. Nearly 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly have been reported since October, compared with fewer than 150 cases in the country in all of 2014.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised pregnant women to reconsider travel to Brazil and 21 other countries and territories with Zika outbreaks over fears about microcephaly.
Both Brazil’s Zika outbreak and the spike in microcephaly have been concentrated in the poor and underdeveloped northeast of the country, though the prosperous southeast, where Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are located, are the second hardest-hit region. Rio de Janeiro will host the Aug. 5-21 Olympic games.
On Tuesday, officials in Rio also ramped up their fight against the Aedes aegypti, dispatching a team of fumigators to the Sambadrome, where the city’s Carnival parades will take place next month. Governor Luiz Fernando Pezao was to be on hand for a ceremonial handover of around 30 vehicles to help poor Rio suburbs fight the spread of the mosquito, his team said.
Officials have also pledged to redouble mosquito eradication efforts during the Olympics.