Brazil troops sent into action against Zika virus as Olympics loom
By Donna Bowater in Rio de Janeiro
BRAZIL’S armed forces have mobilised 200,000 military personnel on a “day of action” to raise awareness of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the Zika virus. It is the first time the 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 on Saturday. Rio will host the Olympic Games in August, making it imperative for Brazil’s government to defeat the virus there. “If there wasn’t the Games, I don’t think there would be so much worry,” said Claudio Jorge Pessanha, 73, who was visited by marines at his home near Maracanã stadium, where the Olympic opening ceremony will take place. Soldiers went door-to-door, handing out leaflets with advice on how to stop mosquitoes from breeding, as part of the campaign to reduce the spread of Zika. According to the government, two-thirds of breeding sites are within homes. On Monday, troops were due to 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 spokesman 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. The World Health Organisation ( WHO) has said that doctors were close to identifying a link between the virus and microcephaly, or impaired brain and skull development. Two separate studies found evidence of the virus in the brain tissue of newborns or foetuses, indicating Zika had a tendency to infect nerve cells. For the first time, the WHO suggested that pregnant women should consider postponing travel to affected areas.