I went to Brazil, even though everyone told me not to because of Zika
Post on February 23, 2016, 3:27 pm by the-victoria-law-group 0 Comments
I was sitting in a taxi heading back to my hotel in Copacabana after a day touring the streets of Rio de Janeiro, when an ad came on the radio and I heard the words “Zika” and “mosquito” a few times. The cab driver chuckled lightly to himself and looked back at me in the rear-view mirror. We made eye contact, he saw I caught those few words, and he laughed again.
It was the fourth day of my trip, and this was the first mention of Zika.
The Zika virus started gaining international attention last month, after spreading from Brazil to other countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean. The World Health Organization declared the Zika outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.” It’s only the fourth time the WHO has declared a public health emergency, after the Ebola outbreak and polio resurgence in 2014, and H1N1 swine flu in 2009.
But from what I saw in my 10-day trip to Brazil, it seemed no one told the people in Rio.
Zika isn’t a new virus, but has garnered recent international attention because of an outbreak in northeastern Brazil, a region relatively distant from where I was traveling.
Zika virus is suspected of causing microcephaly, a condition where babies are born with a small head and an underdeveloped brain. Beyond this possible risk, symptoms are mild, usually just resulting in fever, joint pain and rashes. There is also budding evidence of a connection to Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause paralysis. But prevention and attention has focused primarily on pregnant women: The Centers for Disease Control issued a warning, telling pregnant women to postpone travel to Zika-affected countries.
I initially wasn’t super concerned about the virus — but headlines about the potential danger eventually caught my attention.
I almost canceled my trip. A week before I was supposed to leave, when everyone was talking to me about the virus and every news outlet was blaring “ZIKA ZIKA ZIKA!” in my face, I panicked. As a woman in my mid twenties — prime childbirth age, for some — I was wary. I suddenly found myself contemplating my future children. Would they be at risk? Was it a chance I was willing to take?
But I boarded my plane in New York City — with multiple cans of DEET packed in my luggage — anticipating that I would trade a Zika virus infection for an incredible vacation.
And after I touched down in Brazil, I realized I made the right choice. Not only did I not see any warnings for Zika in Rio de Janeiro or Florianopolis — the two locations of my vacation — but I also didn’t see many mosquitos in general, Zika-carrying or otherwise.
Sunblock and beers were at the front of store displays, while bug sprays were tucked away in the back. I didn’t see a single mosquito net — like the one I slept under in Africa for malaria fears — or any warning signs. People gathered in flocks at outdoor cafes, street parties and on the beaches — even in places where still waters provide excellent breeding ground for mosquitos.
From a gringa’s perspective, it seemed Zika was not on Brazilians’ minds, and it certainly wasn’t disrupting their lifestyle. The raging nightlife in the Lagoa neighborhood in Florianopolis by a notoriously stagnant lake carried on. People were still sleeping with windows open to let in the cool summer breeze at night.
Of course, Brazil is massive, comparable in size to the United States, and the most affected areas were more than 1,400 miles away from where I was.
“Nationally, people are concerned that babies are being born with microcephaly, but there must be much more talk in the most affected areas,” said my friend Ellie, an American who has been living in Florianopolis for more than two years. “And Carnival helped to mask some of the national Zika talk. Brazilians really care about Carnival.”
It seemed everyone, including myself, was more interested in celebrating Carnival, the good, instead of Zika, the bad.
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