Time to swat away fears of getting infected

A week since returning to Rio de Janeiro from Singapore, I have had several mosquito bites on both my legs. They are small and red, but otherwise hardly bother me.

Yet, I cannot help but feel jittery each time I spot a new bite mark, despite the precautions I have taken. I make it a point to wear long pants whenever I go outdoors - even to the wet market - and obsessively keep my doors and windows closed. I also spray insect repellent on myself several times a day.

Brazil is, after all, the hardest-hit country in the ongoing Zika virus outbreak, with 1.5 million cases of infection.

On Monday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Zika virus outbreak an international public health emergency. It also launched a global Zika response unit.

Fortunately, I am not pregnant, for the greatest concern about the virus is that it is linked to a condition that causes babies to be born with an abnormally small head, called microcephaly.


Bottles of mosquito repellent in a pharmacy in Rio de Janeiro. Zika virus or not, it appears life has not changed much for many Brazilians, who are still heading to the pristine beaches in droves at the weekend. ST PHOTO: JOAN CHEW

Reports said 90 per cent of children born with the condition will face serious developmental problems, both mental and physical, and shorter lifespans.

Since October, Brazil has reported 3,670 suspected cases of microcephaly, of which 404 have been confirmed- up from 147 in 2014.

So, imagine my surprise when I spotted two pregnant women in short, spaghetti-strapped dresses one morning. I mentally reproached them for not wearing clothing that covered them up well, to protect them against mosquito bites.

 
 
 

The next day, I learnt the reason for their light dressing after I had a chat outside a private clinic with bank teller Erica de Souza Alves, 31, who is 36 weeks pregnant with her first child. In a shoulder-baring floral dress that exposed her limbs, she told me it was more comfortable to dress like that in the sweltering summer heat in Brazil.

She also said she religiously sprayed insect repellent on herself, whether she was indoors or outdoors.

Like her, most Brazilians dress for comfort, and tend to wear sleeveless tops, shorts and flip-flops. Zika virus or not, it would seem life has not changed one bit for Brazilians, who are still heading to the pristine beaches in droves at the weekend, wearing their tiny bikinis and trunks.

The handful of Brazilians I spoke to, in my limited Portuguese, said they were unfazed by the virus.

The women said they were neither pregnant nor thinking of conceiving any time soon. Two of them said they were more worried about dengue than Zika, which is normally a mild disease. Both conditions are spread by the Aedes mosquito.

After listening to them, I think it is perhaps time I became less uptight and headed outdoors to watch samba dancers in dazzling costumes perform at the annual Carnival. After all, there's no guarantee that I will not get another mosquito bite if I stay cooped up indoors.

  • The writer, who is with Mind & Body, moved to Rio de Janeiro last September.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2016, with the headline 'Time to swat away fears of getting infected'. Print Edition | Subscribe