In the wake of the wild five-day Carnival orgy in Rio, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians will treasure one more chance to celebrate this weekend at dozens of street parties. Joyous dancing, throbbing music, and free-flowing beer are just what the doctor ordered for this population balancing pleasures with worries. And who could blame these revelers who seek escape from long-standing anxieties including: putting-up with corrupt government officials, contending with inadequate social services, and surviving within a deteriorating economy.
“Despite the problems in our country, our people can’t lose their love of partying,” said one dancer in an AFP interview. “People have to put those problems aside.”
Throw the Zika virus into the mix, and the emotional scales soon tip to the overwhelming side for these nationals. Just days before Carnival started, this mosquito-borne virus was pronounced by the World Health Organization as a “public health emergency.” Rio de Janeiro then reactively scrambled to: warn the million partiers to take precautions against insect bites, lustful kissing, and unprotected sex; as well as fumigate certain areas of the city.
While insect repellent proved useful for some when it was wasn’t washed away from spilled beer or profuse sweating, the vast majority threw caution to the wind. One reveler proclaimed, “I use repellant, but the truth is that Brazilians couldn’t give a hoot about Zika. It’s Carnival. We have hot blood and after the fifth beer, no one remembers Zika,” said another spectator.
The city’s belated rush to protect, along with this apparent apathy, has a nervous world on edge. The aggressive, disease-carrying mosquito has been known to attack several times within minutes as it makes its rounds among its unknowing victims. Multiply this scenario by droves, amidst this hot, humid, sweat-drenched party conditions, and you have a large scale mix of dangerous ingredients within a veritable and experimental petri dish.
Even before Carnival, hundreds of foreign travelers who left “ground zero” Brazil were diagnosed with the Zika virus soon afterwards. Over thirty countries in the western hemisphere have reported this contagion to be spreading locally via mosquitos and even unprotected sex.
Now, with several hundred thousand celebrators returning home, this declared epidemic could reach pandemic levels. “Even one chance event could cause local transmission back home,” said Dr. Kamran Khan, an infectious disease scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, in a CNN interview.
During Carnival, a lot of chances were taken for sure. As each returns home, some who are worried may get tested and take precautions. Yet others, especially those unaware that they may be carrying the virus, will go on with their lives.
So, the stage is set as the world braces for a potential onslaught of the Zika virus rippling through countries outside of the Americas, and the Caribbean. Further, many also worry about the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics where once again a half-million visitors are expected to attend. Looking ahead, “The country shouldn’t be “trying to run an Olympics and battle an epidemic at the same time,” said New York University bioethicist Art Caplan to CNN.
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