Olympics will come and go but Zika is here to stay, scientists say
By Paulo Prada
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Battered by a presidential impeachment and the worst recession since the Great Depression, Brazil is getting a rare bit of relief as Rio de Janeiro prepares to host the Olympics: declining numbers of Zika infections.
Since the start of the Zika outbreak, which wreaked havoc across Brazil's northeast earlier this year, many physicians and would-be visitors have worried the Games could be a catalyst to spread the virus internationally.
Some athletes, including the world's top-ranked golfer, have said they will stay home to avoid infection because of concerns over health complications caused by Zika, notably microcephaly, a birth defect among babies of pregnant mothers infected by the virus.
Recently, however, cooler-than-normal temperatures during the southern hemisphere winter, coupled with efforts to eliminate breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that spread Zika, have cut infections by about 90 percent from a February peak, when more than 16,000 cases were reported in one week.
In Rio, an ebbing of Zika fears is reassuring authorities just over a month before the Olympics start on Aug. 5.
"Rio is not the Zika nightmare that people worried about," says Pedro Vansconelos, director of the Evandro Chagas Institute, a Brazilian research facility, and a member of the World Health Organization's emergency committee for Zika.
Hot, humid weather, which fosters mosquito reproduction, helped Zika spread rapidly from Brazil to more than 60 countries and territories.
A hot summer in Rio at the start of the year led to a spike in other mosquito-borne illnesses, such as dengue and Chikungunya. But the local outbreak of Zika was not as severe or as widespread as in the northeast, confounding scientists. Continued...