Brazil is using nuclear radiation to combat the Zika virus, which has infected 1.5 million people so far in the country. They will target the Aedes aegypti mosquito which carries Zika, feared to be responsible for microcephaly deformity in newborns and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Researchers in Pernambuco, northeast Brazil, are building on efforts against pests such as the tsetse fly in Africa, responsible for Human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), also known as sleeping sickness. In partnership with the Department of Nuclear Energy at the Federal University of Pernambuco, scientists at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation expose mosquitos to nuclear radiation, damaging their DNA, and causing infertility.
The sterilised males are being released into the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, at a rate of 3000 per week, in order to compete with others for mating. The females of the Aedes Aegypti species are usually only available to mate once in life, and by mating with sterile males, they cannot reproduce. It is hoped that this will decrease the population of the mosquito species.
In a bid to further halt the spread of Zika, Brazil’s National Health Surveillance Agency has approved new diagnostic tests. The tests from BioCAN Diagnostics detect antibodies in blood samples, and therefore allow diagnosis both at the post-infection and acute infection stages, in 15-2o minutes.
Brazil’s fight against Zika is not only conducted through scientific method, but also by a thorough information campaign. Brazil instigated a National Day of Mobilisation on 13 February, assembling the armed forces in 350 cities, to combat the Zika crisis, which has infected 1.5 million people in the country. Brazil’s Day of Mobilisation was a bid to spread awareness about the mosquito, in an attempt to stop further spread of Zika.
Brazil has rallied to halt the spread of Zika quickly and efficiently, to avoid any further financial loss. The tourism-heavy economy is already set to lose $310 million as a result of the outbreak, according to the World Bank, and with the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro fast approaching, a far greater sum may be lost.
The Brazilian Ministry of Tourism has developed a strategy to prevent this, drawing up a list of actions to inform readers how to eliminate mosquito breeding sites and the necessary precautions to take to protect tourists and the population at large. Hotels, bars and restaurants, travel agencies, and even traders and carriers have been in receipt of this crucial information since January, providing guidelines for how to combat the mosquito, and with it the spread of Zika.
In a determined move, Brazil’s government has announced a fine for people who are found to have Aedes aegypti on their property. While it remains unclear how this would be enforced or even monitored, the decision shows the mounting efforts to eradicate the mosquito and stem the tide of the Zika virus.
Brazil succeeded in eradicating the Aedes aegypti in 1955, only for it to return by the end of the 1960s. Since then, the population levels have not been controlled. With the latest scientific and government efforts, and the mobilisation of Brazil’s population, it is hoped that the new measures will prove a lasting success.