BRASILIA, Brazil, Feb. 7 (UPI) — Millions have joined Carnival celebrations in Brazil despite the threat presented by the Zika virus outbreak.
Parties have been taking place throughout the country since Friday, including in Recife — the city most affected by the Zika virus — where more than 1 million people have been celebrating.
More than 1 million people are expected to travel to Rio de Janeiro, where Carnival celebrations will continue through Tuesday, ending on Wednesday, Feb. 10, observed by Christians as Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
Authorities have been passing out leaflets to party-goers telling them how to prevent the spread of the Zika virus. Carnival is seen as a test of whether the Zika virus may scare tourists away from visiting Brazil during the Olympics scheduled for August and September.
Brazil is continuously fumigating cities to stop the spread of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. The South American country also said it deployed 220,000 soldiers to pass out information.
Soldiers are expected to go from home to home throughout the country starting Feb. 13 to hand out leaflets that will give residents information about how to stop the spread of the Zika virus by eradicating mosquito breeding grounds.
Health Minister Marcelo Castro recently said Brazil was “losing badly” in the fight against the Zika virus, adding that its spread is one of the greatest public health crises in Brazilian history.
The epidemic is blamed on the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which transmits the Zika virus — along with dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
Hospitalizations and fatalities are rare, with symptoms such as rash and fever lasting from a few days to one week. The virus was first isolated from a monkey in Uganda’s Zika forest in 1947.
The Zika virus has also been linked to an epidemic of microcephaly — a developmental defect resulting in a smaller-than-normal head or brain — in newborns in Brazil, and the birth defect has been found in other children where the Zika virus has been confirmed.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott this week declared a health emergency in four counties after nine people developed the Zika virus.
“Although Florida’s current nine Zika cases were travel-related, we have to ensure Florida is prepared and stays ahead of the spread of the Zika virus in our state,” Scott said.
“Our department of health will continue to be in constant communication with all county health offices, hospitals and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We know that we must be prepared for the worst even as we hope for the best.”