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    Playing hide and Zika with Aedes aegypti

    Brazil finds itself in midst of ethical battle over mosquito vector

    For quite a while, I have wondered why the country of Brazil (“Brasil” to its citizens) has bothered to have an army. By law, military service is compulsory, but about 75% of its male citizens are excused because of lack of need.

    A peace-loving people, the Brazilians have had no enemies in recent times. Hence, its military has not been called to defend the populace. Until now.

    More from Dr. McDonnell: Giving weight to worrisome reports

    Unless you have chosen to ignore the medical literature and lay press for the past several months, you know that the Zika virus—transmitted by a mosquito, Aedes aegypti—has recently come to the new world. First identified in Africa in 1946, the virus has found a susceptible population without immunity in South and Central America.

    Sadly, the pathogen has been associated with microcephaly and potentially blinding ophthalmic malformations in the babies of women infected during pregnancy. The eyes of these newborns have been shown to have atrophic lesions in the posterior segment and optic nerve lesions. Up to one-third of the babies might be expected to have severe visual loss. The causal relationship is apparently not definitively established, but the virus has been found in the placentas and in the malformed brain tissue of children who did not survive.

    More from Dr. McDonnell: How would an ophthalmologist respond when faced with death?

    To fight the mosquito vector, Brazil has mobilized 220,000 soldiers who are going from home to home looking for the mosquitos and for standing water in which they might breed. Their goal is to decimate the population of the mosquitos and thereby protect pregnant women and their unborn children.

    To play or not to play?

    Peter J. McDonnell, MD
    He is director of The Wilmer Eye Institute, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of ...

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