Brazil is 'losing battle' against mosquito, says Health Minister

Rio de Janeiro: Brazil's health minister says the country is sending some 2,20,000 troops to battle the mosquito blamed for spreading a virus suspected of causing birth defects but he also says the war is already being lost.

Marcelo CastroMarcelo Castro. Pic/AFP

Marcelo Castro said that nearly 2,20,000 members of Brazil's Armed Forces would go door-to-door to help in mosquito eradication efforts ahead of the country's Carnival celebrations. Agency spokesman Nivaldo Coelho said today that details of the deployment are still being worked out.

Castro also said the government would distribute mosquito repellent to some 400,000 pregnant women who receive cash-transfer benefits. But the minister also said 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," the ministers said as a crisis group on Zika was meeting in the capital, Brazilia.

A massive eradication effort eliminated Aedes aegypti from Brazil during the 1950s, but the mosquito slowly returned over the following decades from neighboring nations, public health experts have said. That led to outbreaks of dengue, which was recorded in record numbers last year.

The arrival of Zika in Brazil last year initially caused little alarm, as the virus' symptoms are generally much milder than those of dengue. It didn't become a crisis until late in the year, when researchers made the link with a dramatic increase in reported cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect that sees babies born with unusually small heads and can cause lasting developmental problems.

The World Health Organization repeated today that the link remains circumstantial and is not yet proven scientifically. But worry about the rapid spread of Zika has expanded across the nation, and the hemisphere beyond. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised pregnant women to reconsider travel to Brazil and 21 other countries and territories with Zika outbreaks.

One of them, the US territory of Puerto Rico, reported 18 confirmed cases of Zika today, though none involve pregnant women.

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