- The Washington Times - Friday, January 29, 2016

The Brazilian government moved Friday to attack mosquito hot spots in federal buildings across the country, part of its effort to “declare war” on insects that are carrying the Zika virus across Latin America.

Health Minister Marcelo Castro encouraged workers to wipe out standing water in gutters, trash cans or even plastic cups — places where the Aedes mosquito can breed.

“This battle we will win, because a mosquito is no stronger than a whole country,” Mr. Castro said.

Brazil has reported up to 1 million cases of Zika, a virus that only circulated in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region until it showed up in the Americas last year.

Though only one in five infected persons will show symptoms, Zika virus has been tied to microcephaly, in which babies are born with abnormally small heads, and a condition known as Guillian-Barre, which can lead to temporary paralysis.

Brazil has reported about 4,000 cases of microcephaly over the past several months. Not all cases have been verified, however, and the link to Zika has not been proven.

Experts said the federal cleanup is a positive step, but wiping out the virus and its breeding grounds will be a unique challenge for Latin America.

“It’s a start, but it’s a herculean task. Most of these countries are in emerging markets — or if not, close to it — and they just don’t have the resources to do it,” said Dr. Robert Quigley, senior vice president for medical assistance at International SOS, a company that advises clients on global medical and security issues.

The World Health Organization will convene an emergency meeting Monday in Geneva to discuss the Zika crisis. Its chief said the virus is “spreading explosively” and now affects more than 20 nations in Latin America.

Officials in El Salvador are so worried that they’ve asked women to try and avoid becoming pregnant until 2018, according to multiple new reports.

Zika isn’t transmitting in the continental U.S., but it has shown up in returning travelers and spread in Puerto Rico. A potential vaccine won’t be available for years to come, though scientists are working on an emergency version.

In the meantime, the Centers for Disease Control has advised pregnant women not to travel to Zika-affected countries.

The administration says the mosquitoes that carry the virus will struggle to survive in the U.S. for now, given low January temperatures in much of the country.

Brazil is steeped in its summer, however, so the climate is more hospitable to the insect vectors. That dynamic will flip by August, when Rio de Janeiro is scheduled to host the Olympic Games amid its winter.

While that’s good for the host country, experts are worried about the virus will catch a ride to other corners of the globe.

“There’s going to be such a potential influx of foreigners who will be returning to their respective countries, many of whom are returning in their summer months,” Dr. Quigley said.

“It’s a big deal,” he said.

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