Zika Has Brazil's President, Central Banker Hunting Mosquitoes

  • Rousseff's cabinet visits Brazil cities in education campaign
  • Zika virus not a risk for August Rio Olympics, Rousseff says

Armed forces personnel receive instructions during an awareness campaign on the day of national mobilization against the Aedes aegypti mosquito in Sao Paulo on Feb. 13.

Photographer: Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

President Dilma Rousseff led a nationwide campaign Saturday asking all Brazilians to check their homes for standing water and the mosquito that carries Zika virus, just six months before Rio de Janeiro will host the summer Olympics.

More than 30 heads of ministries and public institutions -- including presidents of the Central Bank, state aviation company Infraero, and public bank Caixa -- visited different cities to hand out educational pamphlets and check for mosquito breeding grounds. Rousseff, wearing a #ZikaZero shirt and baseball cap, peered into plants in private gardens and posed for photos with residents in a community in Rio de Janeiro state.

Dilma Rousseff promotes the Zero Zika campaign

Photographer: Leo Correa/AP Images

“We believe that we’ll have considerable success exterminating mosquitoes before the Olympics, but we need all of you,” Rousseff said. “If everyone is mobilized, the mosquito isn’t stronger than an entire country.”

Zika has spread from Brazil throughout Latin America, prompting the World Health Organization to declare an international public health emergency. The disease has sparked alarm because it’s linked to microcephaly, a condition that leads to birth defects. Authorities are concerned the Olympics, with its influx of thousands of athletes, officials, and spectators from every corner of the globe, could hasten the spread of the virus. Brazil’s government has sought to dispel speculation the games might be canceled.

Rousseff defended the government’s progress on improving urban sanitation, and said the aedes aegypti mosquito, which also transmits the dengue and chikungunya viruses, is found in more than 130 countries. She said Saturday’s mobilization is not only to prepare for the Olympics but also to protect ordinary Brazilians, especially pregnant women who are most at risk because of the connection to microcephaly.

Brazil is mobilizing 220,000 soldiers and will visit 3 million homes to combat the mosquito, Defense Minister Aldo Rebelo said on Feb. 11. He estimated that two-thirds of the insects that carry the virus reproduce within residential areas. The same day, Health Minister Marcelo Castro said Brazil will partner with researchers from the University of Texas to develop a Zika vaccine that could be ready for test trials within a year.

Government officials have downplayed an Associated Press report that said the country hadn’t shared enough data on Zika with researchers. Castro told reporters that Brazil is being transparent with its global partners.

Rousseff’s chief of staff, Jaques Wagner, said this month that it’s “not recommended” for pregnant women to travel to Rio for the Olympics, adding that there’s no chance Brazil will call off the games.

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