Brazil’s President Pledges to Win ‘War’ Against Spread of Zika

(Bloomberg) -

Brazil’s government pledged to contain the spread of the mosquito-born Zika virus, after the World Health Organization said the pathogen is spreading “explosively” throughout South and Central America.

The government, which is mobilizing troops from the three branches of the armed forces, would spare no cost to combat the disease, President Dilma Rousseff said Friday, after meeting with governors from five states to coordinate efforts. The federal government also will fund increased production of bug repellent, distributing it to lower-income women who are at risk of contracting the virus that’s suspected of causing birth defects.

“We will win this war,” Rousseff said at a center set up in the nation’s capital to coordinate containment efforts. “We have to use all our resources in this fight.”

Rousseff’s comments come after her health minister, Marcelo Castro, told reporters this month that Brazil for decades has been losing the fight against mosquitoes that carry the Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya viruses. His remarks raised concerns that authorities are unprepared to contain the virus.

The government’s challenge is daunting, as the hot and rainy weather in Brazil’s summer months of January and February create ideal conditions for mosquitoes to breed. Scores of foreign travelers were expected to visit the country in February, raising the risk that they will bring the virus with them back home.

While there is no approved vaccine, a top U.S. health official said the government could start work on an experimental one as soon as this year.

An emergency committee from the World Health Organization will meet Feb. 1 to discuss the global threat from Zika, which it says could infect as many as 4 million people in the Americas this year, based on models from the spread of dengue. South American health ministers may gather in Uruguay next week to discuss the problem as well.

Only one in five people with Zika will get sick, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus has been linked to more than 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly in Brazil, a condition that causes infants to be born with underdeveloped brains and an abnormally small head.

The Centers for Disease Control this month recommended that expectant women consider postponing travel to affected areas.