By Priscilla Moraes
Brazil would face an even greater struggle against Zika if the common “culex” mosquito is passing on the virus.
A common ‘culex’ mosquito Photo: Alamy
Brazil could be facing a greater fight against the zika virus than previously feared as researchers investigate whether the common mosquito is transmitting the disease.
The Aedes aegypti species of mosquito was thought to be solely responsible for spreading the virus. But scientists are now studying whether the “culex” mosquito – the variety most commonly found in Brazil – could also be passing on the infection.
“This may be the reason for the virus replicating faster,” said Constancia Ayres, the research coordinator of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation. “The interaction of the mosquito with the virus may explain the epidemiological profile of disease transmission.”
The study is expected to last three weeks and aims to understand precisely how quickly the epidemic is spreading. Mrs Ayres pointed out that the culex mosquito “transmits other viruses close to zika” and asked: “What’s to say that it could not transmit Zika?”
The disease caused by the zika virus is linked to a large number of cases of cranial malformations in babies, especially in north-eastern Brazil, known as microcephaly.
A government report revealed more than 4,000 suspected cases where babies have been born with a brain deformity since last year.
“The best vaccine against the zika virus is every one of us fighting: government and society,” she said. “The more standing water, the more the mosquito breeds. So we cannot let them be born. It will be a fight house-to-house and the government will make a serious commitment to that.”
In Brazil, the authorities are expected to announce more help for low-income families with babies born with malformations. They will receive a minimum salary per month to help provide necessary care to children with microcephaly.
The government plans to distribute insect repellent to all pregnant women who already receive the state’s “Bolsa Familia” family allowance.
The zika virus has already spread elsewhere in South America. Switzerland and Denmark have become the latest European countries to report infections among their citizens returning from the continent.
One Swiss national was infected in Colombia; another caught the virus as far away from Brazil as Haiti. Only pregnant women generally require hospital treatment for the disease, which poses the greatest threat to unborn children.
So far, five cases have been confirmed in Britain, all among people who had travelled in South America. Five people have also been recorded with the virus in Portugal, which has the greatest number of European travellers to Brazil.
President Barack Obama was briefed on the situation on Tuesday by scientists from the US Centre for Disease Control. The White House said that Mr Obama “emphasised the need to accelerate research efforts to make available better diagnostic tests, to develop vaccines and therapeutics, and to ensure that all Americans have information about the zika virus”.
There is no vaccine or specific cure for zika, which has symptoms similar to influenza and often causes a rash.