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Zika virus casts its shadow on carnival

By Xinhua in Rio de Janeiro (China Daily) Updated: 2016-02-01 07:57

The rapid spread of the Zika virus across Brazil is giving local authorities a headache as the country is gearing up for the annual carnival celebrations. In the past few weeks, the country's health authorities have increased preventive measures and awareness campaigns in the hope of reducing the disease's impact in major tourist cities such as Rio de Janeiro.

During rehearsals for street bands' parades and samba performances, flyers are distributed advising citizens to empty disused flower vases or buckets in case the stagnant water there becomes a breeding ground for Aedes aegypti mosquito, carrier of the Zika virus.

Healthcare agents have been going door-to-door in the city in search of areas where Aedes larvae might be. There are more than 3,000 people helping with this task, according to Rio's municipal administration.

Citizens have been recommended to use insect repellent and wear long-sleeved clothes. Unfortunately the latter is not a particularly easy task due to Rio's current scorching summer heat.

Pesticide sprayers are making extra visits to samba schools and the renowned Sambadrome, where the schools will parade during the carnival. Sprinkling trucks carrying pesticides are also seen moving around the city.

Even before the Zika outbreak, mosquito prevention had been a public health focus in Brazil during summer, as the Aedes aegypti mosquito reproduces faster during warm and rainy periods and it also spreads the dengue fever, yellow fever and chikungunya.

Over the past few months, Zika rose from a relatively insignificant new virus in Brazil to the country's most pressing public healthcare concern. Zika infections were reported earlier in Asia and Africa, and the virus is now spreading fast in many parts of the world.

As the Zika virus is fairly new to Brazil, the population had no antibodies and the number of infections surged in the country. Due to the milder nature of the disease, the Brazilian health authorities had not taken it seriously.

Doctors find link

However, after local doctors found a link between Zika and the rising number of babies born with microcephaly in the country, concerns over this previously overlooked disease skyrocketed.

Microcephaly refers to an abnormally smaller head in newborn babies. It may lead to developmental delays and often comes with other health conditions, such as sight and heart congenital diseases.

Health authorities found out that many Brazilian women who had babies with microcephaly had been infected with the Zika virus in the early months of their pregnancies.

This caused uproar among the country's female population and prompted some women to postpone their plans to get pregnant in the near future.

More than 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly have been identified in Brazil.

So far, 270 have been officially confirmed to have links to the Zika virus, and further testing is underway.

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