In the news, the horror stories about the Zika virus accumulate. After dengue and malaria, there is now a third life-threatening infectious disease in Brazil which is transmitted by mosquitoes. It’s estimated that there are already more than 850,000 cases just in Brazil, the estimated number of unknown cases is much higher. Especially the northern regions of the country around the Amazon are strongly affected by Zika infections, but there have already been reported a large number of cases in the state of Rio de Janeiro. It seems, as this disease spreads further to the north. About half of all countries on the two American continents are already affected by the Zika virus. Just in Canada and Mexico, the disease probably won’t arise, according to the forecast.
The Brazilian media has already announced that this year’s carnival will be much more humble and less “suada” – which is translated with sweaty, but is meant as cheerful and full of life – due to the Zika virus. Even Rio de Janeiro expects way less foreign and domestic tourists. Not least because of a gunfire at a carnival parade in the bairro Santa Teresa. Only a week ago I was in this district, crossed exactly the same road, in which a 24-year-old Brazilian was killed by two bullets in the chest two days ago. Several other joyful revelers were seriously injured.
Not only the tourists deters the Zika virus. Especially pregnant women are on high alert. Nearly ten thousand babies – even here the numbers vary – were already born with microcephaly in Brazil. The World Health Organization (WHO) sees a connection between the ever increasing number of cranial deformities of infants and the Zika virus. There is noting proved yet. Nevertheless now many Brazilians opt preventively for an abortion. But this is illegal in the arch-catholic country. Only in the case of rape or impairment to the mother’s health an abortion is allowed until the 20th week of pregnancy. For a fee of about 15,000 Real, 3,700 Euro, this will be done in a private clinic. These costs exceed by far the average wage of a Brazilian worker, which is about 2,200 Reais. Therefore, especially more educated and well-to-do women choose this radical step. In the last days, fertility clinics are also overrun by women who want to conserve their eggs for later fertilization. Unnecessary scaremongering or not.
One thing is clear: Currently there is no effective medicine against the Zika virus. Therefore it’s important for all South and North America-travelers to consider the following facts:
How is the Zika virus transmitted?
The transmission occurs by the mosquitoes of the genus aedes aegypti, which are diurnal and prefer to sting the feet and legs. By the sting, the virus is transmitted into the body and breaks out within three to 12 days. Still more than a year after the infection, the virus can be still detected in the body. However, a transfer from one person to another isn’t possible. But another mosquito can get the virus by stinging an infected person or a host. The mosquito will be unaffected, but can transmit the Zika virus to another person. Especially in (sub-)tropical areas with temperatures between 30 ° C and 35 ° C, the Zika virus spreads quickly because it is the preferred habitat of the mosquito.
What does the mosquito of the genus aedes aegypti look like?
It is only about three to five millimeters in size and dark in color. Significantly, it has white stripes on the legs and white markings on the scutum. The snout is black. Preferably the mosquitoes of the genus Aedes aegypti stings in the early morning and the late evening hours, an half hour before the sun goes down. Hence you need to exercise ca’canny at those times.
How can you protect yourself?
As there is no effective cure, you have to take preventive measures. First of all, you should know that the mosquito lays her eggs in water, lakes and even smaller water accumulations like puddles and flowerpots. Therefore, these areas are more likely to avoid or pay attention to accumulation of water in and around the house. A stay on the sea or ocean, a non-stagnant water, doesn’t represent a high risk of infection. In addition, you should mount a mosquito net on all windows in the house and also, where appropriate, on the doorstep. Same for the bed. In hardware store, there are already good mosquito nets on the cheap. Tourists in Brazil will certainly be surprised. Because you can neither see insect nets on the windows nor on the beds of locals. They prefer the so-called “repelente”, a mosquito repellent spray, which they use on a regular base. My experience is that the German mosquito sprays are absolutely inefficient and even attract the sucking beasts. Therefore, it is advisable to buy one repelente in a local “farmácia” in Brazil. You can get a good one for five to seven reais, less than two euro. The best bet is to use the spray every two hours, especially in the mornings and evenings. Long clothing can also be a protection, but at temperatures above 30 ° C, of course, you need to get used to it. Light cotton clothes can be a good alternative. On many Brazilian websites you can also find the information that you should take vitamin B supplements or eat strong smelling foods. The smell deters the mosquito.
What are the symptoms of an infection?
Common are flu-like symptoms such as fever (37.5 ° C to 38.5 ° C), joint pain, especially in the feet and hands, headache and myalgia, and an itchy rash on the face, on the trunk and on the limbs. Rarer symptoms of Zika virus infection include abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, conjunctivitis and eye redness, sensitivity to light and small ulcers in the oral mucosa. In any case: If you are in a (sub)tropical area and have fever or over a longer period diarrhea, you should urgently go to a doctor. Even if it isn’t necessarily something severe.