Brazilian troops to fight spread of mosquito virus
Brazil's health minister said the country would mobilise 220,000 troops to battle the mosquito blamed for spreading a virus suspected of causing birth defects - but he also said the war was already being lost.
Marcelo Castro said nearly 220,000 members of Brazil's Armed Forces would go door-to-door to help in mosquito eradication efforts ahead of the country's Carnival celebrations. Details of the deployment were 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 was failing to adequately tackle 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 met 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 neighbouring nations. That led to outbreaks of dengue, which was recorded in record numbers last year.
The arrival of Zika in Brazil last year caused little alarm, as the virus's 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 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 yesterday, though none involve pregnant women.
Officials in El Salvador, Colombia and Brazil have suggested women stop getting pregnant until the crisis passes.
Repellent has disappeared from many Brazilian pharmacies and prices for the product have tripled in recent weeks since the government announced a suspected link between Zika and microcephaly
Nearly 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly have been reported in Brazil since October, compared with fewer than 150 cases in all of 2014.