Over 220,000 soldiers are taking part in a door-to-door campaign to educate people about Zika-virus mosquitos. The virus is spreading across the region, with 5,000 pregnant women infected in Colombia.
Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff launched a nationwide campaign on Saturday aimed at teaching people about the ways to eliminate the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is spreading the Zika virus.
"The government is taking the lead, but that alone won't win the war," she said, wearing a white T-shirt with the "Zero Zika" campaign slogan.
"We need to get everyone involved," she added.
Rousseff kicked-off the anti-Zika push by personally visiting homes in the poor Zeppelin neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, followed by the city's mayor and the state governor.
Most of the work, however, will fall to some 220,000 army, navy and air force troops, who are tasked with distributing pamphlets and advising the population on the measures they could take against the virus.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito lives largely indoors and lays eggs in stagnant water. They tend to use dishes beneath potted plants, abandoned tires, bird feeders and even the little puddles of rainwater on plastic covers.
The soldiers are due to visit some 3 million homes in 350 towns and cities.
Olympic Games to go ahead as planned
Talking to reporters on Saturday, President Rousseff said that the epidemic would not lead to the cancellation of the Olympic Games, which are due to start in Rio de Janeiro on August 5.
"We are confident that by the time the Olympics begin we will have considerable success in exterminating the mosquito," she said.
Some 1.5 million people have been infected with the Zika virus in Brazil since early 2015, but only three have died. Experts suspect a link between the virus and microcephaly, a condition that leaves infants with unusually small heads. This can result in brain damage and severe health problems.
The virus has also been linked to neurological conditions such as Guillain-Barre syndrome. Symptoms include muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. In the most serious cases, the muscle weakness can affect breathing and patients may need a breathing tube.
Infections increasing in Colombia
The Zika virus has already spread to dozens of countries across Asia, Africa and the Americas, including Brazil's neighbor Colombia.
On Saturday, the Colombian national health institute said it had registered 31,555 Zika patients, including more than 5,000 pregnant women. The authorities are predicting about 600,000 Zika cases overall and 500 cases of microcephaly for this year.
There is currently no cure or vaccine for Zika, with the World Health Organization estimating that development of a vaccine might take 18 months.
dj/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)