‘Who Knows What’s Really Happening?’: Pregnant Women Defy Zika at Brazil Carnival


The Brazilian government made efforts to warn revelers before the annual Carnival celebrations to protect themselves from the Zika virus by wearing long-sleeved clothing and avoiding kissing and sexual contact, particularly pregnant women.

A number of pregnant women disregarded the alerts, however, taking their chances with the Zika pandemic to enjoy what Carnival has to offer.

The Carnival celebrations, which precede the Catholic Lenten period every year, tend to be a flurry of dancing, flamboyant but revealing outfits, and a contest “where kissing as many people as possible is a top pastime,” as the Associated Press noted. Brazil’s health authorities attempted to quell this risky behavior with a number of suggestions, including avoiding kissing strangers and the sweaty crowds of Carnival in general. The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a wing of Brazil’s Ministry of Health, suggested pregnant women avoid Carnival entirely, and added that the partners of pregnant women have “an additional responsibility” not to go to Carnival and engage in risky behavior that may result in their partner contracting the virus.

While dozens of Brazilian cities were forced to cancel Carnival celebrations, some using the funds, instead, for Zika prevention and research, the nation’s largest parties went on. The Zika fear was present in a number of outfits, as revelers disguised themselves as the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the disease, pretending to sting people. While the Aedes aegypti bite is the most common way humans contract Zika, at least one case of sexual transmission has been confirmed and multiple cases of contamination through blood transfusions. Traces of Zika have been found in human saliva and urine, leading officials to warn against kissing strangers.

The full scope of the danger of contracting the Zika virus remains unknown. Eighty percent of patients who test positive for Zika have no symptoms, and most adults experience only mild symptoms if they notice their infection at all. Pregnant women, however, face a much more dire threat: the potential that their child will be born with microcephaly, a condition in which a child is born with a skull too small for its brain, causing severe neurological damage.

Brazil celebrated Carnival with its usual bombast despite the Zika outbreak – now a “pandemic” – leading many pregnant women to disregard the advice. “I’m not worried. First they say one thing, then they say another. Who knows what’s really happening anyway?” Julia Silva, wearing a halter top that exposed her pregnant belly, told PBS while attending the festivities in Recife. She admitted to not wearing insect repellent. Another pregnant woman, Flavia Nicacio, told PBS she could not resist attending Carnival, but at least “I’m wearing all these clothes,” she stated, noting her seasonally inappropriate pants and long shawl.

At least one pregnant woman PBS found at Carnival refused to identify herself because, she said, “I’m a doctor and … I am setting a terrible example.”

Many of the pregnant women who stayed home told PBS they did so mostly because their pregnancy made them unable to spend too many hours partying without feeling uncomfortable. “I’m seven months pregnant, and I’m tired,” Camila Clarissa Chagas told the outlet.

Chinese state outlet Xinhua found not only pregnant women at Carnival, but an event dedicated to young mothers called “Bloco Umbilical Cord”–“bloco” being the traditional name for the independent block parties that are divided throughout the city. “It is impossible to stay home with a small girl during Carnival,” Gabriela Ortis, eight months pregnant with a second child, told Xinhua.

As Carnival is celebrated worldwide, at least one outlet encouraged pregnant women to attend. The Spain-based “Embarazo10” published a listicle of creative Carnival disguises for pregnant women, many requiring the woman to bare her belly. “Make everyone take a look at your belly without it having to be because you are pregnant,” the listicle reads. The outfit ideas include “beer belly” and “fried egg”: