Brazilian authorities have not addressed the longstanding issues that led to the Zika epidemic in the country, leaving it vulnerable to another outbreak of the virus, according to a Human Rights Watch report released this week.
“There is this idea that Zika is gone, the emergency has been lifted,” said Amanda Klasing, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “But the risk for another outbreak is there.”
Despite declaring an end to the national public health emergency over the mosquito-borne virus in May, systemic problems with public water and sanitation systems remain, the report said. More than one-third of Brazilians lack access to a continuous water supply, so many must fill tanks and other containers with water, which can become potential mosquito breeding grounds if they are not treated or covered.
Researchers also described seeing untreated sewage flowing near communities that were often obstructed by debris, creating dirty, standing water — also ideal conditions for breeding of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the primary transmitter of the virus.
“The Aedes mosquito is programmed to breed in standing water close to the human populations,” said William May, the co-director of the Johns Hopkins Zika Center and an associate professor of ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, who travels often to lecture in Brazil.
The Zika virus is alarming because it is linked to a birth defect known as microcephaly, which results in smaller heads and brain damage in infants. It has also been linked to infant eye abnormalities and Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a neurological disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the nerve cells, causing weakness and, sometimes, temporary paralysis. There is no vaccine to prevent Zika and no treatment for…