Brazil’s Olympic faces Zika V bug challenge

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff vows to wage a “house-by-house fight” against mosquitoes spreading the Zika virus.
Associated Press / Franklin Reyes, File

Going forward to May, 3 when the Olympic torch leaves Rio de Janeiro for a nationwide relay race through 26 states in Brazil in promotion of the biggest summer sporting games on the planet, one of the biggest hazards to competition could be the Zika virus.

Described by the World Health Organization in epidemic proportions, Zika is “spreading explosively” and could infect three to four million people this year

Considering the fact 10,500 athletes from 206 countries are expected to compete in 42 sport activities during the Rio 2016 Olympics, concern is high that the tiny mosquitoes now plaguing more than 20 tropical countries could dominate the quadrennial global attraction.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff vowed to wage a “house-by-house fight” against mosquitoes spreading the virus blamed for causing a surge in reports of brain-damaged babies and causing worry for the population, visiting athletes, investors and fans anticipating a South American spectacular, three months prior to the national relay.

“It’s going to be a house-by-house fight,” she said at a regional summit in Ecuador, recently.

“Although we don’t have a vaccine today,” the president added “I’m sure we will have one, though it will take time.”

The leader said Brazil would place “extreme emphasis” on wiping out mosquito breeding grounds, combating transmission of the disease and looking for a vaccine against the dangerous virus.

There is no vaccine to prevent the Zika virus and once infected there is no medicine to treat it.

Pregnant women are most susceptible, once bitten their babies could be born with microcephaly and abnormally small heads that often worsen with serious developmental issues and sometimes early death.

Doctors are investigating 29 related infant deaths after an autopsy last year found the Zika virus in a baby born with microcephaly, establishing a link between the two.

The figure rose to five and now 49 cases of deaths of babies from some form of cranial disability.

“This is an unprecedented situation, unprecedented in world scientific research,” Brazil’s Health Ministry posted on its website.

Transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that thrive in tropical climates, they are known to be most infectious during the daytime, however, can wreak havoc at night.

Now it seems another rare illness is emerging in the South American country. This second malady may also be linked to the outbreak of the virus and the tiny mosquito.

The New York Times is reporting that Brazilian officials and doctors are warning about hundreds of cases of a rare syndrome in which patients can be almost paralyzed for weeks.

According to the report, disease specialists in Brazil say ZIKV may also be causing a surge in the rare condition, known as the Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS).

It is a potentially life-threatening syndrome in which a person’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system, leaving some patients unable to move and dependent on life support.

The reputed newspaper reported that until recently, the condition was so rare that Brazil’s health ministry did not require regional officials to report it.

However, last year, the authorities in northeast Brazil counted hundreds of cases of GBS prompting doctors to raise alarm.

That area was the hardest hit by the Zika virus.

WHO said it is investigating whether an ongoing outbreak of ZIKV in El Salvador is linked to more than 40 cases of GBS recorded between Dec. 1 last year and January 6 this year.

El Salvador usually records about 169 GBS cases annually.

The ZIKV outbreak there started in November and since that time more than 4,000 cases have been recorded.

Health officials in Puerto Rico also reported the island’s first case of ZIKV.

“There is no reason for alarm, and the public should continue to take commonsense steps to avoid mosquito bites,” Puerto Rican Congressman Pedro Pierluisi said in a statement.

He added that he expects experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to visit the island to educate local physicians to “properly diagnose and treat the virus.”

Detected, predominantly around buildings in urban areas, the spreaders of the Zika virus are the same mosquitoes that carry yellow fever, dengue and the wretched chikungunya which caused fear throughout the Caribbean last year and may have impacted tourist travel to many islands.

Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and the red eyes of conjunctivitis. Usually mild, and can last up to a week, other symptoms can include muscle ache, headache, pain behind the eyes and vomiting.

Those discomforts usually begin three to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

Brazil’s health minister announced that 200,000 soldiers have been deployed to go house to house as part of a mosquito control campaign.

Insect repellant is being distributed to at least 400,000 pregnant women.

Brazil has been the country hardest hit by the outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus.

The virus first appeared in Brazil May, 2015 when more than 2,400 suspected cases of microcephaly were reported in 20 Brazilian states.

The spike in numbers from the previous year’s 147 caused alarm within the health ministry. Doctors soon discovered that most of the affected mothers reported having Zika-like symptoms during early pregnancy mild fever, rash and headaches.

“These are newborns that will require special attention their entire lives. It’s an emotional stress that just can’t be imagined,” Angela Rocha, the pediatric virologist at a hospital in Pernambuco said.

Six Brazilian states have declared a state of emergency and in Perambuco — the hardest-hit — more than 900 cases of microcephaly have been reported.

Reports are that cases of microcephaly had risen from 163 per year on average to 3,893 since the Zika virus outbreak began last year.

Immediately afterwards, Brazilian officials began encouraging women to postpone pregnancies if at all possible.

The outbreak is worrying officials as the country prepares to host the Olympics, which was expected to attract hundreds of thousands of travelers from around the world from early August until Aug. 21.

Three months before the ceremonial opening on Aug. 5 and when athletes carry the torch from towns, to cities to states, caution and anxiety is now of global concern.

Although pregnant women are the immediate concern of the government, potential pregnant women and people living with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are also particularly susceptible.

Anyone suffering or recovering from — cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and stroke, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma and diabetes — should be cautious.

With growing concern of the rapid spread of the virus, Jamaica took steps to prepare for any outbreak by setting aside almost $100 million to fund prevention campaigns and to procure new equipment and other resources to fight ZIKV.

One case was reported and confirmed positive over the weekend. The case involved a four-year-old child who is now recovering.

Dr. Sonia Copeland, director of health promotion and protection in the Ministry of Health warned and her colleague consultant cardiologist and new chairperson for the Heart Foundation of Jamaica, Dr. Andrene Chung concurred, saying: “In the Caribbean, five times as many people die from (a) non-communicable disease than from all other illnesses combined, and 10 times as many people die from non-communicable diseases than from HIV / AIDS.”

In 2000, the four leading causes of death in the region were heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.

February marks Heart Month and the 45th anniversary of the Heart Foundation of Jamaica. With Dr. Copeland’s recent acknowledgement of the period, she emphasized that the ministry had been focusing on pregnant women and those planning to become pregnant, because of the possible link between Zika virus and babies being born with a birth defect because people living with NCDs — and all chronic diseases that are not passed from person to person but are of long duration and generally slow progression — are likely most vulnerable.

Following the confirmation of three cases of Zika in Barbados, health officials there are awaiting the results on 27 more samples that were sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad for testing.

While Barbados officials are monitoring the disease, they are also vigorously encouraging the public to take the necessary precautions to prevent mosquito bites.

“Protective measures which residents of Barbados are advised to follow include sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net; wearing tops with long sleeves and long pants, especially during the hours of highest mosquito activity (morning and late afternoon); and using mosquito repellents with DEET applied according to manufacturers’ instructions,” an advisory stated.

The public was advised to take steps to reduce mosquito breeding by removing potential mosquito breeding sites such as discarded containers, coconut shells, and other places where water can be collected.

Fumigation of high-risk areas for mosquito breeding, house to house inspections and other community mobilization activities have all been implemented to safeguard residents. An advisory about reducing mosquito breeding encouraged vigilant checking of living and working surroundings with attention to cleaning up any potential breeding sites. The public was also advised to protect themselves by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants that are not thin enough to bite through, to use screen and door protectors, and to employ the use of approved insect repellents

Trinidad & Tobago declared a health emergency with specialists tediously monitoring the spread throughout the Caribbean.

Zika fever was first discovered in Uganda in the 1940s and has since become endemic in parts of Africa. It also spread to the South Pacific and areas of Asia, and most recently to Latin America. Because of global travel, health experts warn the virus could appear anywhere in the world.

Zika is transmitted when a mosquito bites an infected person, and then spreads the obtained virus by biting others. The Zika virus could be spread through blood transfusion, and there is one case of possible virus transmission via sexual contact.

The Zika virus has now been confirmed in more than 23 countries across the Americas.

Some airlines, including those serving the Caribbean, have started offering refunds to passengers who had been booked to fly to some of the countries where cases of the virus have been confirmed.

United Airlines, American Airlines and British Airways are allowing passengers to back out of travel. So far, the mosquito-borne virus has surfaced in Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Paraguay, Panama, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname and Venezuela, even though international health authorities have indicated that Zika will likely spread to all countries in the Americas.

British Airways said pregnant customers with flights to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, or to Mexico City or Cancun (Mexico), could change their booking free of charge, delay their journey or choose an alternative destination. American Airlines is offering pregnant passengers a full refund if they provide a doctor’s note showing they are unable to fly to: San Salvador (El Salvador), San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa in Honduras, Panama City and Guatemala City.

Allegedly, United Airlines is offering an option to customers traveling to the affected regions. An airline spokesperson said the carrier will honor rebooked tickets for another date or issue a full refund.

The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and Caribbean Hotel and Tourism association (CHTA) said there are already reports of travel cancellations to the sports destination due to the virus.

President Barack Obama recently called for faster research on the virus.

He emphasized the need to accelerate research efforts to make available better diagnostic tests and to develop vaccines and therapeutics.

Although construction delays, terrorist attacks, crime in the favelas (congested housing areas in Rio de Janeiro) and other security issues cast early doubts as to whether Brazil was the ideal choice for thousands to converge, it seems of most concern as the games approach is the goal of ridding the country of the fast flying Zika bug.

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