zika virus.jpg
Photograph: EPA/MARECELO SAYAO

Carnival is over and now, with full force, the problem of the spreading Zika virus is dominating public life in Brazil.

It remains unproven that the infection, spread by mosquito bites, is the cause of microcephaly - the deformation of embryos' skulls during pregnancy - but a link is strongly suspected, triggering panic in areas hardest hit by the virus.

Normally, the virus is relatively harmless, causing minor symptoms including fever, skin rashes and headaches. But by official accounts, several people have already died from the Zika infection, and the risk to expecting mothers could be grave.

Brazil's response to control an epidemic that has already spread to more than 30 countries: some 220,000 soldiers were despatched Saturday to battle the tiny Aedes aegypt mosquito, under a five-point "battle plan."

POINT 1 - Hard research data: There is enormous pressure on health authorities, while doctors are reporting an increasing rates of abortion amid growing fears about the disease. The Catholic Church has entered the fray, warning against the rush to kill unborn babies and against the idea of a "Lex Zika" that would make getting an abortion easier. Meanwhile, the United States and Brazil are jointly at work on a vaccine. But it could still take years before such prevention would be ready for widespread application.

POINT 2 - Public health prevention measures: Saturday's day of action was meant to send signals both at home and abroad. Soldiers and thousands of health authority workers distributed leaflets and went house-to-house - visiting up to 3 million homes - to educate people to eliminate even the smallest puddles or standing water around their homes where mosquitoes can lay eggs. The favelas, in particular, which lack modern sewage systems, breeding grounds for the mosquitoes. The public information campaign, heading into the Summer Olympics in August in Rio de Janeiro, is meant to show that Brazil is fighting to win the "war" on the virus. In Rio alone, 71,000 soldiers were deployed for the campaign.

POINT 3 - The army versus the mosquito: In a second phase, some 50,000 soldiers are to be deployed in the coming weeks to wipe out mosquito breeding grounds in the most hard-hit areas. Children in thousands of schools are to be informed about the dangers of the mosquito, which is active across 81 per cent of Brazil's territory.

POINT 4 - A public-private spraying campaign: Since the epidemic's outbreak, the government has distributed 100 tonnes of anti-larvae chemicals to the federal states to be sprayed on the water in a bid to slow down the spread of the mosquito population. In addition, 550 tonnes of insecticides are foreseen to make housing areas free of mosquitoes. Many private people are already involved in their personal battle, with purchases of mosquito repellants surging 50 per cent. Companies are producing around-the-clock while sprays are even being imported from Argentina. According to the newspaper Globo, 14.7 million mosquito repellants were sold last year, with 2016 like to set yet a new record.

POINT 5 - New methods: One proposal comes from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), where the head of research, Marc Vreysen, is speaking of interrupting the reproduction cycle of mosquitoes by sterilizing males with doses of radiation. The males would then be let free to mate with females, whose eggs would produce no offspring. Irradiation, which is not new to insect control, has already been employed in Guatemala to protect banana plantations from fruit flies. Similar results could be achieved through genetic manipulation, or by infecting mosquitoes with a bacteria that would alter the males' sperm to disrupt the reproduction cycle. However, officials caution that with the "high season" of mosquitoes underway and lasting into May, the deployment of such measures on a large scale would be organizationally impossible.

Related stories

Latest news

Bomb explodes outside police officer's home in Northern Ireland

A bomb exploded outside a police officer's home in Northern Ireland on Wednesday but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Denmark to charge man with blasphemy over burning Koran

Danish prosecutors said Wednesday they have opened a rare blasphemy case against a man who videotaped himself burning a copy of the Koran.

South Africa to raise taxes for the wealthiest

South Africa will raise the income tax rate for the country's wealthiest to 45 per cent from 41 per cent, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced Wednesday.

French centrist leader offers conditional support to Macron

The leader of France's centrist Democratic Movement party, Francois Bayrou, said Wednesday he was willing to support reformist former economy minister Emmanuel Macron in the country's upcoming presidential election.

Amnesty International warns of nationalist rhetoric and hate speech in Croatia

Croatia continues to have problems with discrimination against ethnic minorities and with freedom of the media, while heightened nationalist rhetoric and hate speech during election time contributed to growing ethnic intolerance and insecurity in the country, global human rights watchdog Amnesty International said in its annual report on the state of human rights in the world in 2016/2017.

Official assigned to Wilders' security team held by Dutch police

A security official assigned to protect Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders is being held by police on suspicion of passing along classified information about the lawmaker to a Dutch-Moroccan crime gang.

Italy's 'Red Thing' could make impact in election debut, polls show

Two polls conducted for RAI public broadcaster released Wednesday showed a new entity that split from Italy's ruling Democratic Party

Council: Nixing grants to "Novosti" would cause far-reaching implications

The Council for National Minorities, a state-level autonomous umbrella organisation for all ethnic minorities in Croatia, has stated that the cancellation of financial grants to the "Novosti", a newspaper of the ethnic Serb minority, would produce far-reaching implications and stir criticism for reduction of free speech and of freedom of expression of the most numerous ethnic minority.

Russia to build replica Reichstag for schoolchildren to storm

A military-themed park in a suburb of Moscow will soon install a replica of Berlin's Reichstag for Russian schoolchildren to storm, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday.

Alitalia strike set for Thursday, hundreds of flights cancelled

Employees of Italy's loss-making airline Alitalia will go on strike Thursday, air transport unions confirmed, after government talks with both sides failed to break the deadlock.

EU calls on Germany to reduce large current account surplus

The European Commission on Wednesday called on Germany, the bloc's biggest economy, to reduce its large current account surplus and focus on boosting domestic consumption.

Germans' demand for Croatian destinations on steady rise

Bookings for Croatia's destinations in some regions of Bavaria have been rising and some statistics show a 30% increase year-on-year, according to the preliminary information from the "f.re.e." fair for leisure and travel, which opened in Munich on Wednesday and runs through Sunday.