RIO DE JANEIRO. — Olympic and tourism officials in Brazil downplayed risks for foreign visitors from the mosquito-borne Zika virus on Monday, even as the health ministry warned pregnant women to consult doctors before visiting the country amid a widening scare.
Alarm over the virus, linked to a rising number of mental birth defects among children of mothers infected by it, comes two weeks before nationwide Carnival celebrations, a highlight of Brazil’s tourism calendar.
It also comes 200 days before Rio de Janeiro hosts the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics, the first in South America.
Following a warning by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention last week that pregnant women should not travel to 14 countries and territories in the Caribbean and Latin America where the virus has spread, Brazil’s health ministry said pregnant women should seek medical advice before visiting.
Municipal authorities in São Paulo, the country’s biggest city, said they had distributed faster testing materials to help public hospitals identify patients infected with dengue, another mosquito-borne virus whose outbreaks have worsened in recent years.
Despite the growing alarm, local officials in the run-up to the Olympics and Carnival say current measures to prevent the spread of Zika and other mosquito-borne viruses should be enough to ensure that tourists and locals minimise the chance of infection.
Cities across Brazil are working to educate residents about the dangers of pooled and stagnant water, where mosquitoes reproduce, and in some cases have targeted breeding areas with insecticides.
Efforts are particularly intense in the northeast, where most infections and Zika-related birth defects are concentrated. — Xinhua.