Brazil has become the epicenter of what the National Institutes of Health has deemed a “pandemic”: the spread of the little-understood Zika virus throughout the Western Hemisphere. Rather than cancel their annual Carnival week, however, most Brazilian governments found ways to cut expenses and incorporate Zika awareness into the party.
A number of local governments and event organizers in Brazil have warned that, for the nation’s standards, this year might see a reserved Carnival, particularly in the context of the 2016 Olympic Games, set to take place in Rio de Janeiro. Due to a combination of significant economic shortages and tourist cancelations because of the fear of Zika, at least 48 cities nationwide have canceled official Carnival celebrations entirely.
Some cities have merely reduced their Carnival budgets, spending more, instead, on promoting the event and education efforts regarding the prevention of Zika. The Aedes aegypti mosquito, common in the region, spreads Zika through mosquito bites, as well as the diseases Dengue, Chikungunya, and Yellow Fever. Prevention of these diseases largely depends on ensuring the mosquitos do not find fertile areas in which to reproduce. The mosquitos are particularly fond of warm pools of still water, all too commonly formed in urban areas during the hot Brazilian summer.
In Recife, Brazil, where scientists believe up to 100,000 people have been exposed to the Zika virus, property owners who typically rent rooms to Carnival-goers for the week report that business has been, at best, sluggish. “There is a high number of dropouts,” one renter tells the national Folha de Sao Paolo. “In more than 40 years, I do not remember ever having such a bad year.”
Another business owner – Ticiane Didier, who rents rooms at a daily rate – tells the newspaper he typically contracts about one hundred employees to take care of his rooms. “This year, I will not hire more than four.”
Carnival, a festival in which many revelers wear little clothing and dance in closed quarters, lends itself well to the spread of a disease like Zika. Nonetheless, while Carnival officially begins Thursday, many partiers have already taken to the streets of Brazil. Even in these celebrations, however, Zika is present, as the government incorporates awareness campaigns regarding still water sources and insecticides into the events.
One enterprising musician even released a love sing titled “The Zika”; it’s about a girl who is so unhealthy for him she might as well be a virus:
Independent groups have also taken to combatting Zika through Carnival events. To honor the Olympic games, one group of revelers dressed as Greek gods and marched in Rio de Janeiro singing an anti-Zika song: “If you leave still water [around]/the larvae grow/from larvae come mosquitos/Leave me alone, Zika! Scare the evil away.”
— PublimetroChile (@PublimetroChile) January 25, 2016
“We wanted to show a different side of Carnival, an Olympic Carnival,” the organizer of the group, Chico Nogueira, told the Agence France-Presse (AFP). “We are the Dionysuses and Afrodites, the gods of Rio mixing with the rest of the world.”