Brazilian tourism board outlines measures for Zika control

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The threat of the Zika virus didn’t keep revelers away from Rio’s Carnival celebrations earlier this month.
The threat of the Zika virus didn’t keep revelers away from Rio’s Carnival celebrations earlier this month.

In an effort to address travelers’ concerns about the recent outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil, Embratur, the country’s tourism board, last week released a detailed statement outlining the latest measures and precautions Brazil is taking to control the virus’ spread.

“We want to help travelers feel safe with the option of coming to Brazil,” said Vinicius Lummertz, president of Embratur.

According to the tourism board, the Brazilian government has set aside $465 million to combat Zika and has assembled a task force of more than 300,000 people.

They are working to eliminate the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits dengue, Zika and chikungunya, and have been armed with pesticides and Zika diagnostic kits.

About 80% of the people who contract Zika have no symptoms, and for the rest, the symptoms are relatively mild, consisting of fever, skin spots, pinkeye and muscle or joint aches. However, the larger concern has been an association between pregnant women who contracted the Zika virus and babies born with microcephaly, or abnormally small heads, a condition that can result in incomplete brain development.

Brazil has created a National Office for Coordination and Control of the Combat Against Microcephaly. On Feb. 13, 220,000 military members visited around 3 million homes throughout the country to educate the population about the prevention of Zika. They distributed educational booklets, posters and brochures and are using social media and digital platforms to disseminate information about the disease, according to Embratur.

There are two kinds of preventive measures. First is the effort to control the mosquito populations, and the second is encouraging people, especially pregnant women, to protect themselves from mosquito bites.

The increased transparency comes as Brazil prepares to host the 2016 Rio Olympic in August and Paralympic Games in September. According to Embratur, the Brazilian government has sent environmental health surveillance agents to visit the Olympic venues in an effort to control possible mosquito outbreaks.

Any reservoirs around an Olympic venue’s construction areas where water could gather (the Aedes aegypti mosquito breeds in contained water) are being removed, and those that cannot be removed are being treated to prevent mosquito larvae from hatching.

In addition, the Brazilian government said that during the Olympics, which take place Aug. 5 to 21, it plans to have at least one environmental health agent monitoring each venue.

“The Brazilian government is fully committed to ensure that the 2016 Games take place with security and tranquility, whether for athletes, technical staff or tourists,” Embratur said in a statement.

Since the Zika outbreak became international news last month, Embratur said it has been monitoring the impact the virus has had on the country’s tourism business. The agency said so far trip cancellations to Brazil due to Zika have been minimal.

In fact, Embratur reported that there was a “significant increase” over last year in the number of international tourists who visited Brazil during the Carnival celebrations, which took place Feb. 6 to 10.

Embratur reiterated the messages that have been issued by the World Health Organization and the World Tourism Organization that there are no travel restrictions to countries that have cases of Zika virus transmission.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has maintained that pregnant women should consider postponing travel to any area where the Zika virus transmission is ongoing.

In addition to Brazil, that includes around 30 countries and territories in the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific Islands.

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