RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - President Dilma Rousseff said on Wednesday that Brazil must wage war against the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads the Zika virus linked to a surge in cases of a dangerous birth defect, focusing on eliminating the insect’s breeding grounds.
Since September, Brazil has registered 3,700 cases of babies with microcephaly, a condition linked to Zika infection in which children are born with an abnormally small head and a brain that has not developed properly.
The jump in cases has prompted a global health scare, with several countries cautioning pregnant women against traveling to the 22 nations in the Americas where the virus has been reported.
Without a Zika vaccine and with little known about the causes of microcephaly, Brazil has few options available for fighting the spread of the virus and the birth defect.
The mosquito thrives in dense tropical cities, and Rousseff called for the elimination of stagnant water spots where it lives and reproduces.
“We must wage war against the Aedes aegypti, the vector of dengue, of chikungunya and of Zika,” Rousseff said through her Twitter account, referring to two other viral diseases transmitted to humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes.
“While we do not have a vaccine against the Zika virus, the war must be concentrated on the elimination of breeding grounds for the mosquito,” Rousseff added. “Getting rid of Zika is the responsibility of all of us.”
The move comes as Brazil desperately looks to raise awareness of the virus and encourage people to combat the mosquito.
Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Castro on Monday promised 220,000 troops would be deployed next month to distribute educational pamphlets and help scour cities for mosquito breeding grounds.
Similar moves have been successful in the past. A huge eradication effort in the 1940s and 1950s, motivated by the spread of yellow fever also carried by Aedes aegypti, led Brazil to be declared free of the mosquito in 1958. But as the program was relaxed, the insect returned.
With Carnival celebrations just over a week away and the Olympic Games set for Rio de Janeiro in August, Brazil is poised to receive hundreds of thousands of visitors in the coming months, adding to concerns over the spread of the virus.
Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Will Dunham