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Brazil to deploy troops to fight mosquito-borne virus

Jenny Barchfield
Associated Press

Rio de Janeiro — Brazil’s health minister says the country is sending some 220,000 troops to battle the mosquito blamed for spreading a virus suspected of causing birth defects — but he also says the war is already being lost.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas Department of Health says a person who recently traveled out of the United States has tested positive for the Zika virus.

The department says that the person has a mild case of Zika. Spokeswoman Meg Mirivel would not say Tuesday whether the infected person is a man or woman or give the person’s age.

Mirivel says the individual traveled to the Central America-Caribbean region, though she would not specify which country. Some U.S. travelers have been infected abroad with Zika but there are no cases of local infection in the U.S. so far.

Marcelo Castro, Brazil’s health minister, said that nearly 220,000 members of Brazil’s Armed Forces would go door-to-door to help in mosquito eradication efforts ahead of the country’s Carnival celebrations. Agency spokesman Nivaldo Coelho said Tuesday that details of the deployment are still being worked out.

Castro also said the government would distribute mosquito repellent to some 400,000 pregnant women who receive cash-transfer benefits.

But the minister also said the country has failed in efforts against the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.

A massive eradication effort eliminated Aedes aegypti from Brazil during the 1950s, but the mosquito slowly returned over the following decades from neighboring nations, public health experts have said. That led to outbreaks of dengue, which was recorded in record numbers last year.

The arrival of Zika in Brazil last year initially caused little alarm, as the virus’ symptoms are generally much milder than those of dengue. It didn’t become a crisis until late in the year, when researchers made the link with a dramatic increase in reported cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect that sees babies born with unusually small heads and can cause lasting developmental problems.

The World Health Organization repeated Tuesday that the link remains circumstantial and is not yet proven scientifically.

But worry about the rapid spread of Zika has expanded across the nation, and the hemisphere beyond. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised pregnant women to reconsider travel to Brazil and 21 other countries and territories with Zika outbreaks.

Officials in El Salvador, Colombia and Brazil have suggested women stop getting pregnant until the crisis has passed.