Category Archives: Latin America

Zika fears as Rio’s Carnival season approaches

Carnival, the season of excess before the arrival of Lent, was once a major celebration in all the world’s Catholic countries, and while the festivities have grown more modest in most place, Rio”s fete retains the original Bacchanalian bent, and not, coincindentally, is a major profit source for Brazilian businesses.

But with the sudden outbreak of Zika virus and the birth defects it brings, the question ow becomes, will Zika’s rise mean Carnival’s diminution?

Rio public health officials are already taking action.

From CCTV America:

Some fear Zika outbreak in Brazil will affect Carnival

Program notes:

There are concerns that the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil will affect attendance at Rio de Janeiro’s world-famous Carnival celebrations. Some say they’re more worried about the impact of the country’s slowing growth than the Zika virus.

Brazil Zika outbreak leads to Olympic warning

With Brazil as the epicenter for a widescale, ever-expanding outbreak of the Zika virus, the cause of infections that can lead to the birth of children with smaller heads and deformed brains, the coming Summer Olympics in Rio 5-21 August must be causing a lot of worries to athletes and visitors planning to attend.

The IOC, the governing body for the games, has belatedly taken notice.

From Reuters:

The International Olympic Committee will issue an advisory note this week following the outbreak of the Zika virus which is spreading rapidly across South America months before the Rio de Janeiro Games in August.

IOC President Thomas Bach said on Thursday that guidelines would be sent to National Olympic Committees (NOCs) “today or tomorrow at the latest” as Rio prepares to host the world’s biggest sporting event and the first Olympics on South American soil.

“We will do everything to ensure the health of the athletes and all the visitors,” Bach told reporters during a visit to the Greek capital.

“We are in close contact with the World Health Organisation (WHO) as well as with the organising committee and the Brazilian authorities.”

One has to wonder just how many people will attend, given that the World Health Organization has finally sounded the alarm.

To date, the largest number of cases of the mosquito-born disease have been recorded in Brazil.

Zika jumping to the common mosquito?

But it gets worse in a warming world where higher temperatures will bring mosquitoes to ever-broader swaths of land previously free of little bloodsuckers.

From Sky News:

Scientists in Brazil believe the devastating Zika virus may have already crossed over to the common mosquito, dramatically increasing the risk of it spreading worldwide.


Up until now, it was thought the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is confined to the tropics, was solely spreading the virus.

But scientists at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Recife, Pernambuco State, in the northeast of the country, believe otherwise.

They say they are as little as a month away from confirming that the virus is also being carried and transmitted by the much more common Culex mosquito.

Chart of the day: Zika brain damage in Brazil

The Zika virus, when contracted by pregnant women, can lead to the birth of children with abnormally small heads [microcephaly] and damaged brains. This graphic from the From the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control shows how rapidly microcephaly cases soared in Brazil as the mosquito-borne virus took hold:

Number of cases of microcephaly reported annually in the seven Brazilian states reporting an unusual increase of microcephaly, 2010–2015

Number of cases of microcephaly reported annually in the seven Brazilian states reporting an unusual increase of microcephaly, 2010–2015

And from Tudo Sobre Controle Neural, a look at the damage the virus does:

Magnetic ressonance image  of a newborn normal brain (left) and one with microcephaly (right).

Magnetic resonance image of a newborn normal brain (left) and one with microcephaly (right).

Map of the day: Where Zika virus is being spread

From the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control [click on the image to enlarge]:

BLOG Zika 2

That was quick: WHO calls Zika virus crisis meet

A day after two prominent experts called on the World Health Organization to hold an emergency meeting about a rapidly spreading disease that causes brain deformities in newborns, WHO complied.

From the World Health Organization:

WHO to convene an International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Zika virus and observed increase in neurological disorders and neonatal malformations

WHO statement
28 January 2016

WHO Director-General, Margaret Chan, will convene an International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Zika virus and observed increase in neurological disorders and neonatal malformations.

The Committee will meet on Monday 1 February in Geneva to ascertain whether the outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Decisions concerning the Committee’s membership and advice will be made public on WHO’s website.

Outbreak in the Americas

In May 2015, Brazil reported its first case of Zika virus disease. Since then, the disease has spread within Brazil and to 22 other countries and territories in the region.

Arrival of the virus in some countries of the Americas, notably Brazil, has been associated with a steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads and in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a poorly understood condition in which the immune system attacks the nervous system, sometimes resulting in paralysis.

A causal relationship between Zika virus infection and birth defects and neurological syndromes has not been established, but is strongly suspected.

WHO action

WHO’s Regional Office for the Americas (PAHO) has been working closely with affected countries since May 2015. PAHO has mobilized staff and members of the Global Outbreak and Response Network (GOARN) to assist ministries of health in strengthening their abilities to detect the arrival and circulation of Zika virus through laboratory testing and rapid reporting. The aim has been to ensure accurate clinical diagnosis and treatment for patients, to track the spread of the virus and the mosquito that carries it, and to promote prevention, especially through mosquito control.

The Organization is supporting the scaling up and strengthening of surveillance systems in countries that have reported cases of Zika and of microcephaly and other neurological conditions that may be associated with the virus. Surveillance is also being heightened in countries to which the virus may spread. In the coming weeks, the Organization will convene experts to address critical gaps in scientific knowledge about the virus and its potential effects on fetuses, children and adults.

WHO will also prioritize the development of vaccines and new tools to control mosquito populations, as well as improving diagnostic tests.

Viggo Mortensen on American militarism, art

Viggo Mortensen is one of Hollywood’s most interesting actors, a commanding and often sympathetic screen presence.

But he’s much more than a screen presence. Born in New York, he was raised in Latin America, and holds citizenship in both the U.S. and Denmark. Among his other talents are gifts for painting, photography, writing, and poetry. Oh, he speaks four languages fluently and can converse in several others. And he’s also a recording artist and founded his own book publishing house, Perceval Press.

Give his credentials as a talented polymath, it should come as no surprise that he’s also a man of considered political opinions, and it is these that are the focus of the latest edition of TeleSUR English’s The Laura Flanders Show:

Viggo Mortensen: Empires and Justice in the Middle East

Program notes:

This week Laura and Viggo Mortensen discuss heroes, outlaws, empires and justice in the Middle East. Academy Award-nominated actor Viggo Mortensen has appeared in scores of movies, including The Lord of The Rings, one of the highest grossing film series of all time. What you may not know is he’s also a poet, photographer, musician and painter. He speaks four languages, and he is the founder and publisher of an independent publishing house, Perceval Press. The twelfth anniversary edition of Perceval’s collection of essays in response to the Iraq occupation: Twilight of Empire — was released this winter with essays by Mike Davis, Amy Goodman, Jodie Evans and Dennis Kucinich among others – and a forward by Howard Zinn. This episode also features a few words from Laura on Hillary Clinton – her warmth and her wars.

His Twitter feed is here, and his Facebook arts page is here.

Zika virus expected to reach mainland U.S.

The virus, which is suspected as a cause of microcephaly, a condition in which infants are born to mothers infected by the disease with smaller head and brains, accompanied by often severe developmental disabilities, is spreading rapidly and expected to reach all countries in the Americas except Canada and Chile.

From the Centers for Disease Control, here’s a map of countries where the diseases is presently active:


While the disease caused by the mosquito-borne virus typically causes no lasting problems in otherwise health adults, it may be borne in the semen of affected males.

The latest from the Pan American Health Organization, the regional office of the World Health Organization:

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that is new to the Americas. Since Brazil reported the first cases of local transmission of the virus in May 2015, it has spread to 21 countries and territories* of the Americas (as of 23 January 2016).

There are two main reasons for the virus’s rapid spread: (1) the population of the Americas had not previously been exposed to Zika and therefore lacks immunity, and (2) Aedes mosquitoes—the main vector for Zika transmission—are present in all the region’s countries except Canada and continental Chile.

PAHO anticipates that Zika virus will continue to spread and will likely reach all countries and territories of the region where Aedes mosquitoes are found.

The most effective forms of prevention are (1) reducing mosquito populations by eliminating their potential breeding sites, especially containers and other items (such as discarded tires) that can collect water in and around households; and (2) using personal protection measures to prevent mosquito bites (see also recommendations below).

The role of Aedes mosquitoes in transmitting Zika is documented and well understood, while evidence about other transmission routes is limited. Zika has been isolated in human semen, and one case of possible person-to-person sexual transmission has been described. However, more evidence is needed to confirm whether sexual contact is a means of Zika transmission.

Zika can be transmitted through blood, but this is an infrequent mechanism. Standard precautions that are already in place for ensuring safe blood donations and transfusions should be followed.

Evidence on mother-to-child transmission of Zika during pregnancy or childbirth is also limited. Research is currently under way to generate more evidence regarding perinatal transmission and to better understand how the virus affects babies.

There is currently no evidence that Zika can be transmitted to babies through breast milk. Mothers in areas with Zika circulation should follow PAHO/WHO recommendations on breastfeeding (exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding with complementary foods up to 2 years or beyond).

Other PAHO recommendations:

To prevent or slow the spread of Zika virus and reduce its impact, PAHO recommends the following:

  • Mosquito populations should be reduced and controlled by eliminating breeding sites. Containers that can hold even small amounts of water where mosquitoes can breed, such as buckets, flower pots or tires, should be emptied, cleaned or covered to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in them. This will also help to control dengue and chikungunya, which are also transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. Other measures include using larvicide to treat standing waters.
  • All people living in or visiting areas with Aedes mosquitoes should protect themselves from mosquito bites by using insect repellent; wearing clothes (preferably light-colored) that cover as much of the body as possible; using physical barriers such as screens, closed doors and windows; and sleeping under mosquito nets, especially during the day when Aedes mosquitoes are most active.
  • Pregnant women should be especially careful to avoid mosquito bites. Although Zika typically causes only mild symptoms, outbreaks in Brazil have coincided with a marked increase in microcephaly—or unusually small head size—in newborns. Women planning to travel to areas where Zika is circulating should consult a healthcare provider before traveling and upon return. Women who believe they have been exposed to Zika virus should consult with their healthcare provider for close monitoring of their pregnancy. Any decision to defer pregnancy is an individual one between a woman, her partner and her healthcare provider.

PAHO is working with its member countries to strengthen vector-control, communicate the risks of Zika and promote prevention, and establish or improve surveillance of both Zika virus infections and suspected complications, such as microcephaly, Guillain-Barre syndrome, and other autoimmune and neurological disorders.