Zika virus in Brazil

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Brazil is the largest sovereign state in both South America and the Latin American region. It is the world's fifth-largest country, both by geographical area and by population.

Brazil is the country hardest hit by Zika. The Zika virus outbreak happened in Brazil in May 2015. Since then, it spread to over 20 countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean. As of February 2016, an estimated 1.5 million Brazilians have caught Zika. The Pan American Organization first warned the people of Brazil about Zika virus in May 2015. The Brazilian government declared a state of emergency in December 2015.

As of 23 February 2016, 4,863 confirmed and suspected cases of microcephaly have been reported in Brazil.


The Brazilian government suspects that that Zika virus was brought to Brazil during the 2014 soccer World Cup by a visitor from Africa or Oceania where Zika is endemic.

During the outbreak of Zika virus in Brazil, health authorities have noticed increased Guillain-Barré syndrome. Increase in babies born with microcephaly was also observed. Health authorities are investigating the connection between Zika virus and microcephaly.

Current figures

Before the 2015 Zika virus outbreak, Brazil has recorded only 150 cases of microcephaly a year.

On January 27, 2016, Brazilian health authorities said last week that 4,180 cases of microcephaly have been reported since October 2015. This is a 7 percent increase from the previous tally the previous week. The city of Recife has been hit hard by cases of microcephaly.

The Zika virus could also cause Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can lead to paralysis, but the link is not scientifically proved.

Between November 2015 and February 2016, Brazil has 404 confirmed cases of microcephaly in new born infants. Seventeen of those cases have a confirmed link to Zika. 15 babies have died from the condition, with five linked to Zika. An additional 56 deaths are under investigation, and 3670 suspected cases of Zika are also under investigation.


  • An estimated 1.5 million people were affected with Zika virus
  • From 2010 to 2014, the number of Zika virus cases in Brazil is less than 200. In 2015, it has more than 3500
  • Bahia - July 2015 - 42 cases of GBS, 26 cases showing symptoms consistent with Zika
  • Brazil - November 2015 - 7 cases of GBS
  • Bahia - 19% increase in GBS cases in 2015 compared to previous year
  • 13 February 2016: 462 confirmed cases of microcephaly and 3,852 suspected cases.
  • 23 February 2016: Suspected cases of microcephaly 4690 (4443 in the previous week). Confirmed cases of microcephaly 583 (508 in the previous week).
  • 14 March 2016: 4863 confirmed and suspected cases of microcephaly


According to World Health Organization, Zika virus could affect 4 million by the end of 2016 in Brazil.


The north-eastern state of Pernambuco is one of the area worst affected by the Zika virus. In 2014, Pernambuco has one-third of all microcephaly cases reported in Brazil. According to Brazilian environmental health organisation Ceval, around 100 cases of Zika virus is reported everyday in Olinda.


According to a leading infectious disease specialist in São Paulo, as of February 2016, Brazil lacks most up-to-date methods in detection of Zika virus. The tests that Brazil uses could generally detect Zika in pregnant women or their infants only during the acute phase of the virus, which lasts about five or six days.


Abortion is illegal in Brazil in most circumstances. The surging number of cases of microcephaly in 2016 has ignited a debate over the country's abortion laws. Legal scholars in Brasilia are preparing for a legal battle before the Brazil's highest court. They demand that pregnant women who contracted Zika virus and when their fetuses are found to have abnormally small heads (microcephaly) should be permitted to have abortions. However, a judge in central Brazil has publicly announced that he won't allow women to have legal abortions in cases of microcephaly. Meanwhile, abortion right activists are preparing to mount a fight over the country's abortion laws.

Government's efforts to tackle Zika virus

Health authorities in Brazil plan to deploy 220,000 members of the military on a single day in February to distribute pamphlets across the country to educate people about the risks posed by mosquitoes.

Residents of Brazil and other affected areas have also been urged to clean up stagnant pools of water and containers in which the mosquitoes tend to breed.

As a part of provisional measure, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has issued a decree allowing public officials to enter abandoned or empty homes by force if necessary as part of the efforts to eradicate the breeding grounds of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The public officials to request police assistance in carrying out forced entry if necessary, and also authorizes the carrying out of educational campaigns and the creation of public guidelines.

In February 2016, Brazil has decided to follow U.S. decision to prohibit blood donations from people who have been infected with Zika.

The government will distribute 500,000 molecular biology test kits in 2016 for diagnosing Zika in 27 labs around Brazil.

Travel to Brazil

Almost six million foreigners travel to Brazil every year. It is estimated that another half a million foreigners will travel to Brazil in 2016 for the Olympics. That includes 250,000 from the United States to visit the Olympics.


In February 2016, Brazil health minister Marcelo Castro said that the Zika virus outbreak in the country is worse than believed. Brazil will start mandatory reporting of cases by local governments by the second week of February, when most states will have labs equipped to test Zika.

On February 1, president of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach expressed confidence there will be good conditions for athletes and spectators at the Rio de Janeiro Games. He also praised the steps being taken to combat the Zika outbreak.

The Health Ministry of Brazil, on February 1, welcomed World Health Organization's declaration that the Zika virus outbreak represents an international emergency. The health ministry said that the designation will help countries around the world develop a coordinated effort to combat the virus.

Brazilian president's chief of staff Jacques Wagner said it will take researchers between three and five years to develop a vaccine against the Zika virus. The Brazilian researchers are working with researchers in the United States in developing a vaccine or medicine to tackle Zika virus.

On February 1, a union is formed by the workers handling the Zika virus response on the ground in Rio de Janeiro. The union demanded better working conditions, as well as uniforms, sunscreen and bug repellent for city workers going door-to-door in hopes of wiping out the mosquito. Secretary general of the SINTSAUDE union Sandro Cezar threatened that the union's 7,000 workers would go on a strike if the government doesn't respond to their demands by Feb 4. He also warned that 220,000 other health workers would later join them in a nationwide stoppage.

Brazilian embassy says no restrictions in force on tourism or trade
On February 4, the Brazilian embassy in Pretoria, South Africa has said that there are no restrictions in force on tourism or on international trade. They insisted that Brazil was still safe and foreigners were welcome. In a statement, the embassy, advised visitors to follow all precautions just as when traveling to any other country. Pregnant women are advised to consult their doctor before the trip.

Scientists find Zika virus in urine and saliva
Scientists of the Flavivirus Molecular Biology Laboratory in Rio de Janeiro found presence of active Zika virus in urine and saliva samples. The new finding will require further study to find out if Zika virus could be transmitted through these bodily fluids. The research institute warned pregnant women to be further careful and take special precaution.

On 11 February, Brazilian health officials announced that three people died from complications of Zika virus. Scientists found Zika virus in the body of a 20-year-old woman who died from respiratory problems in April 2015. The virus was also detected in bodies of two persons who died in June and October of 2015.

On 12 February, Brazil Health Minister Marcelo Castro said they are absolutely sure that the Zika virus is connected to cases of microcephaly. He said that the half-year gap between the virus outbreak in the country and the spike in the number of microcephaly cases is not a coincidence. The new figures released show that 5,079 suspected cases of microcephaly have been reported, out of which 462 cases have been confirmed and 765 discarded. Of the confirmed 462 cases, 41 have been connected to Zika. He also rejected the criticism that the Brazilian government was moving too slowly to confirm cases of microcephaly.

Zika Zero - Brazil Soldiers deployed to warn about Zika risks
On 13 February 2016, more than 220,000 navy, army and air force soldiers of Brazil were deployed to warn people about risks of Zika virus. The soldiers will hand out 4 million leaflets that will carry advise about the risks of Zika virus. They were accompanied by community health agents and mosquito control teams. The teams were expecting to visit 3 million homes in 350 cities.

President Dilma Rousseff launched the 'Zika Zero' campaign to engage people in combating the Zika virus. She visited Zeppelin in Rio de Janeiro wearing a "Zero Zika" T-shirt. She was accompanied by Mayor Eduardo Paes and Rio de Janeiro state governor Luiz Fernando Pezao. The Brazilian government said that the exercise will boost the morale, while the critics hit out saying that it won't help reduce the number of mosquitoes or spread of the virus.

Suspends use of larvicide Pyriproxyfen
On 14 February, the Rio Grande do Sul regional government announced that it had suspended the use of larvicide Pyriproxyfen, used to treat water to combat spread of Zika virus. The suspension was communicated to the 19 Regional Health Coordinating Authorities, which in turn will inform the respective Municipal Monitoring services. The suspension was decided after Argentina-based Physicians in the Crop-Sprayed Towns organization and the Brazilian Collective Health Association questioned whether the larvicide might be linked with microcephaly. However, Brazil health minister Marcelo Castro said that the larvicide supplied by his ministry presents no danger to the public. Manufacturer of the larvicide Sumitomo Chemical also said that there is no scientific basis for such a claim.

On 18 February, top researchers from the United States and Brazil met together to launch a research partnership to find a vaccine for Zika virus.

CDC team arrives in Brazil
A 16-member epidemiologists team of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began training dozens of Brazilian epidemiologists in Joao Pessoa, Brazil. Eight teams of American and Brazilian epidemiologists will be formed. The training is to prepare the epidemiologists to gather data gather data on hundreds of Brazilian women and their children. CDC Medical officer J. Erin Staples is leading the CDC team in Brazil. The teams will gather data from 100 mothers who gave birth to babies with microcephaly. They will collect blood samples from the mothers and children to test for Zika virus infection and will gather more information.

Gamma Rays to sterilize mosquitoes
The International Atomic Energy Agency said it would pay to ship an irradiator device to Juazeiro in Bahia to help stop the spread of the Zika virus. The Irradiation technique has previously been used to control fruit flies on the Madeira island of Portugal. Zapping gamma rays on millions of mosquitoes will sterilize them and will result in female mosquitoes laying infertile eggs. A Brazilian non-profit company called Moscamed would breed up to 12 million male mosquitoes a week, sterilize them with cobalt-60 irradiator and would release them in target areas. Depending on the results, the Brazilian government would scale up the program to other towns and cities.

Still birth
A stillbirth was reported in Brazil on 25 February. Researchers said that the baby lost brain tissue and has severe swelling and fluid build-up in other parts of the body. The Zika virus was found in the fetus even though the mother didn't show any symptoms.

2016 Rio Olympic Games

In August 2016, Rio de Generio will become South America's first city to host the Summer Olympics. One million tourists are expected to join millions of locals in Rio to watch the Olympic games. There are mounting fears that the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil will disrupt the event.

In February 2016, the Rio Olympic Games organizers said they will not cancel the games because of the Zika outbreak. Brazil's sports minister George Hilton criticized the press for suggesting that the 2016 games could be called off. International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach also said he is very confident that the games would take place.

On 9 February, the United States Olympic Committee told U.S. sports federations that athletes who fear for their health amid the Zika virus outbreak should consider not going to the 2016 Olympic Games. The messages was delivered during a January conference call.

To address the concerns of the Zika virus among U.S. female athletes, the U.S. Olympic Committee on 9 February said they would name at least two infections disease specialists, one of which will be a woman, to consult with all U.S. Olympians and members of delegation.

On 12 February, Brazilian Ambassador to Russia Antonio Guerreiro said the Zika virus scare is unlikely to affect the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Ambassador said that Zika virus has mainly affected northeastern Brazil and the city of Rio de Janeiro is one of the least affected by the Zika outbreak.

Brazil reported a 50 percent jump in cases of dengue fever over a three-week period in January. The announcement that came on 12 February is alarming as the dengue fever is carried by the same mosquito that spreads Zika virus. Brazil health ministry has announced that 74,000 probable cases of dengue fever were reported in the period Jan 3 to Jan 23, compared to the same period a year ago. The number of probable dengue cases has jumped from 600,000 in 2014 to 1.6 million in 2015. 21,000 cases of chikungunya were reported in 2014.

On 23 February 2016, the World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan said Brazil is doing a good job in tackling Zika virus and making the Olympic games safe for athletes and visitors. She met Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff.

Ticket revenues drop
From October 2015 until January 20, 2016, ticket revenues for the 2016 Rio Olympics were increasing at an average of 8.85% each week. However, revenue dropped from then on until at least first half of February by 56.4%. Olympic analysts however predict revenues would return to normal.



  • May 2015: First case of Zika virus reported


  • Jan 29: Governors of eastern states of Brazil - Bahia, Pernambuco and Paraiba accompanied by the governors of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo states attended a teleconference with President Dilma Rousseff to discuss steps needed to be taken to tackle Zika virus.
  • Feb 1: Brazil health ministry welcomes World Health Organization's declaration that Zika virus outbreak represents an international emergency.
  • Feb 5: Brazilian scientists detect presence of Zika virus in saliva and urine samples, a first for Brazil
  • Feb 13: Brazil deploys 220,000 soldiers to distribute 4 million pamphlets advising people of risks of Zika virus.
  • Feb 17: Brazil health ministry announced that it is considering most of the 508 confirmed cases of microcephaly to be linked to Zika virus
  • Feb 20: Brazilian scientists obtains the genome sequence of the Zika virus. They find that Zika virus is indeed responsible to microcephaly in babies.

See Also