For Carnival in Brazil, lots of women don giant feather headdresses and skimpy bikinis.
But for a pre-Carnival event, Elaine Cuoto is dressed as a mosquito — complete with a long proboscis and gossamer wings.
She is part of a group of health workers dancing by a metro station in a working-class neighborhood of Rio’s north zone. A few others are wearing mosquito costumes as well. And they’re singing a catchy tune:
“If Zika attacks, use this number to report it, 7-4-6. Pay attention!”
By putting the number to music, public health educators hope it will stick in commuters’ minds.
These dancing, singing mosquitoes are just one sign of the national mood on the eve of Carnival, which runs from Feb. 5-9.
Brazil is in the midst of a Zika virus outbreak. The government estimates that there have been at least half a million cases since last spring. And researchers are concerned that the virus could be linked to the 4,074 suspected or confirmed cases of microcephaly — brain damage in infants born during the current outbreak.
So pregnant women are being warned to use repellent and take precautions to avoid being bitten.
For Amanda Fonseca, that means leaving the city during Carnival. At 33, she is seven months pregnant with her second son.
She’s afraid of the Zika virus. One of her pregnant friends contracted the infection, and she doesn’t want the same to happen to her.
She is doing everything she can to keep mosquitoes away — even switching from regular body lotion to lotion-based insect repellent.
She has devised an elaborate system of making sure she is protected. She showers three times a day, then applies the repellent. So far, she says, no bites. But it’s a race to the finish, her against the Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that carries the Zika virus and other diseases.
It’s not only pregnant women who are being encouraged to think about protection. At the same metro stop, a group of teenagers is handing out condoms to passersby.
Condoms are free as part of Brazil’s robust sexual health program, developed in response to HIV and AIDS. Now there’s a new reason to use protection. This week, a person in Texas was found to have contracted Zika through sexual contact with someone who had returned from a country where Zika has spread.
Lia Peixinho, 17, is carrying a big basket of brightly wrapped condoms. She says people are very sexually active during Carnival and have unprotected sex. Now that we know there can be sexual transmission of Zika, condoms are even more important, she says.
Like the health workers in mosquito costumes, the condom group has a song. The teens snap their fingers and rap, “Remember to always use a condom, no skin on skin …”
Despite the worries, Carnival will go on. Only one city — Maranguape, in the north — canceled the celebration because of the virus, choosing to use the money on mosquito eradication instead.
The recession here has had a far bigger impact on the festivities, cutting down the size of some celebrations. Still, for most of Brazil, the party will go on. As a saying here goes, Carnival is a time to forget your troubles and let it all hang out.
This year, though, people might be a bit more covered up.