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Brazil mobilises 200,000 military personnel against Zika virus

Brazil’s armed forces mobilised 200,000 military personnel on Saturday on a “day of action” designed to raise awareness about the risks of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the Zika virus.

This is the first time the Brazilian army has deployed in force on home soil since the World Cup in 2014, when soldiers helped to secure Rio de Janeiro against gang violence.

The Zika epidemic is concentrated in the north-eastern state of Pernambuco, but the strategic battleground is in Rio.

A third of the troops – 71,000 – were deployed in the state of Rio. The Olympic Games will be held in Rio in August, making it imperative for Brazil’s government to defeat the Zika virus on the city’s streets.

“If there wasn’t the Games, I don’t think there would be so much worry,” said Claudio Jorge Pessanha, a 73-year-old who was visited by marines at his home near Maracanã stadium, where the Olympic opening ceremony will take place. “I think there are more vulnerable points in relation to the Olympics, and they’re starting to take care now.”

Soldiers in uniform went door-to-door, handing out leaflets with advice on how to stop mosquitoes from breeding as part of the nationwide campaign to reduce the spread of Zika. According to the government, two thirds of breeding sites are within homes.

Armed forces personnel hand out flyers as part of an awareness campaign to fight the Aedes aegypti mosquito in the Metropitana neighbourhood in Brasilia, Brazil. Photo: EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty

On Monday, troops will target any identified infestations or breeding hotspots with larvicide – designed to kill the mosquito larvae. On Thursday, the military will support the government’s “Zero Zika” effort in schools.

A spokeswoman for the defence ministry said the numbers of troops deployed was based on their availability in each state.

But Olympic organisers have reassured athletes and guests that Zika will not pose a threat during the event.

Visiting a community in Santa Cruz in the west of Rio on Saturday, President Dilma Rousseff appealed to the public to spend 15 minutes a week to ensure there was no standing water in their homes where mosquitoes can breed.

She said the authorities were carrying out “targeted action” to ensure that Zika would not disrupt the Olympics.

“If we do this, we will win the fight against the mosquito,” she said. “We need everyone participating. That’s what we’re asking. It’s important for the Olympics but it’s important for pregnant women, for children, for mothers. It’s because of our importance that we are doing this.”

Army soldiers distribute pamphlets while explaining how to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads the Zika virus, at the Central station in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: AP/Silvia Izquierdo

Earlier this week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that doctors were close to identifying a link between the Zika virus and microcephaly, or impaired brain and skull development.

Two separate studies found evidence of the virus in the brain tissue of newborns or fetuses, indicating Zika had a tendency to infect nerve cells.

For the first time, the WHO has suggested that pregnant women should consider postponing travel to affected areas. So far, 26 countries have reported locally transmitted cases of the virus.

In Brazil, an increase in the number of cases of microcephaly with suspected links to Zika has brought into focus the country’s law against abortion.

The Catholic Church rejected calls to include microcephaly as a legal exception to this ban, with the president of the National Federation of Bishops saying that abortion was “not the answer” to Zika.

However, other denominations have not taken an official stance on the issue.

Armed forces personnel hand out flyers as part of an awareness campaign to fight the Aedes aegypti mosquito in the Metropitana neighbourhood in Brasilia, Brazil. Photo: EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty

The latest government figures show there are 3,852 suspected cases of microcephaly under investigation in Brazil, with 462 confirmed cases, of which 41 have been linked to Zika.

But in a country used to dealing with dengue fever, some are philosophical about the scale of the problem. “I think the population is well aware – it’s just a matter of putting precautions into practice,” said Patricia de Melo, 36, who was also visited by the marines in Rio.

“You take precautions and do what you can but I don’t see this as a threat because we live in a tropical country. We have dengue – it’s a reality for us. Everyone knows what to do.”

Via: telegraph.co.uk