Talk Media News correspondent Luke Vargas recently returned from Brazil, where he investigated the latest research on the Zika virus and Rio's readiness to host the Olympics.
The following interview originally aired on the “The David Pakman Show” on July 16, 2016:
Luke Vargas: “The Zika mosquito, it’s called the Aedes Aegypti, is an equal-opportunity biter – it’s going to not know a poor person from a rich person…but it is going to find many more of the poor based upon where it likes to live.
This is a mosquito that ideally breeds indoors in standing water. It preys on the poor, not the American-style poor, but people who have no running water, people who have to go outside to gather water…people without indoor toilets so they’re forced outside to use the bathroom, people with no trash collection in their neighborhood.
This is not an environmental portrait of many people in the United States, but it is something very common in various parts of Brazil, throughout the Caribbean and parts of Latin America.”
LV: “Zika’s spread is not random. It is following the path of Dengue Fever and Chickengunya before it…and just because you have mosquitos in your American neighborhood that doesn’t mean that you’ve got this type of mosquito.
If you’re south of Houston in Texas, if you’re south of Orlando in Florida, it is actually responsible for the majority of mosquito bites.
But as you begin to push north into the United States you’re going to see it very rarely. I talked to America’s foremost mosquito expert, who’s in Kentucky, and he said they did a survey around Metropolitan Louisville and only one in 6,000 mosquitos was the Aedes Aegypti mosquito.
So not only would you need this virus to come to the United States, to be in this Aedes Aegypti mosquito population, but the chances of you encountering that bug in a neighborhood outside of those parts of Southern Florida or South Texas is going to be really really low.”
LV: “We’re beginning to think that Zika is only going to remain in men, in sperm, up to about two months, after which point the viral levels are much lower. And in women this figure is even less, it looks to be somewhere around two weeks, after which point the ability to pass it on quite so easily begins to go down dramatically.”
LV: “There have been effects. We have this political crisis here: [President] Dilma Rousseff is in her presidential palace, but she is not governing. Next door, in the vice presidential palace the the Vice President [Michel Temer] is essentially in charge of the country.
A lot of people have said – particularly when it comes to education about the health consequences about Zika – that campaigns have been put on hold. There’s sort of a new administration in, people have been appointed throughout the government by the acting Vice President and roles have shifted, so people don’t know what their future is, there’s not a lot of confidence that they would even have that job in a few months and consequently there’s not a lot of political risk taking.
So a lot of campaigns that talk about maternal health or contraception have been put on hold because nobody wants to be the big decision-maker who takes a risk.
And the other thing is that because of the fall in oil prices, the semi state-owned oil firm Petrobras has cut, what we’re hearing, about three-quarters of its funding for health initiatives in various parts of the country. That firm was responsible for funding a lot of cutting edge research, and because of the economic situation here a lot of that money has dried up.”
LV: “In some ways it looks inevitable.
It is unfortunate that as you land at the airport and take the causeway into the city, the smell is really unpleasant. There was supposed to be a big infrastructure overhaul to clean up the water here and that never really happened, and it would have needed to happen years ago to change the state of the water here.
Typically, as we see, and as we’re seeing here, governments borrow money at the last minute to pay workers – we’re seeing emergency funds released for Rio – the venues will get built. But really it’s what happens after the Olympics to a city like Rio that I think is more of concern to the people here than whether or not it will be presentable.
I’m sure it will be, but the cameras never really tell the true story, especially at sporting events.”