Preventing the Zika virus at ArcelorMittal Brazil

Posted on 09.02.16 by

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Few people outside Latin America had heard of the Zika virus until a few weeks ago. But news of the virus spread fast when pregnant women were warned internationally not to travel to affected areas, because of fears that being infected with the Zika virus – which is transmitted via mosquitoes infected with the virus - can cause birth defects.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has now declared the Zika virus outbreak a global public health emergency. But a lot of work to prevent the spread of the disease has been going on for months, in the countries so far affected by the disease.

Zika causes symptoms of fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis and is usually mild, with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. However, it has also been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains.

A huge eradication effort eliminated Aedes aegypti from Brazil during the 1950s, but the mosquito slowly returned over the following decades from neighbouring countries. That led to outbreaks of dengue, which was recorded in record numbers last year.

The arrival of Zika in Brazil last year initially caused little alarm, as the virus’ symptoms are generally much milder than those of dengue. It didn’t become a crisis until late in the year, when researchers made the link with a significant increase in reported cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect that sees babies born with unusually small heads and can cause lasting developmental problems.

In recognition of the growing number of reported cases of Zika, in December 2015 Brazil’s Ministry of Health declared a health state of emergency.

ArcelorMittal Brazil has been taking major steps to prevent the spread of the Zika virus with positive results.  To date, there have been no reported cases of the virus among 15,000 ArcelorMittal Brazil employees or relatives – and we hope we can maintain this.

However the spread of the Zika virus in Brazil is a very concerning issue for our employees and their families, and we are treating this with the highest priority. We have many measures and programmes in place to raise awareness, educate and protect colleagues, and to prevent the spread of the virus on ArcelorMittal sites and beyond.

Prevention efforts within the company intensified when the government of Espirito Santo State – home to ArcelorMittal’s huge 7.5 million tonne steel plant in Tubarao and a smaller, 600,000-tonne plant in Cariacica – declared a health state of emergency in early 2015, due to a spike in the number of reported cases.

All sites in at-risk areas in Brazil have published and distributed pamphlets and posters, providing advice to employees and contractors on how to protect themselves and their families from contracting the virus and how to spot the symptoms. Messages are also posted on TV screens around the steel sites.

Shop floor inspections are regularly carried out, aimed at finding potential mosquito breeding areas, for example around stagnant water.

During periods of heavy rain, when the mosquitos are more likely to breed, ‘shared vigilance’ groups make more frequent checks.

At ArcelorMittal Cariacica, pesticide spraying takes place twice a week in external areas, especially around the scrap yard where mosquitoes may be found. Other measures taken include draining percolation lagoons and adding chlorine to residual water; ensuring external areas are kept as clean as possible, and carrying out awareness campaigns in the communities surrounding the plant as well as among scrap transport and supply companies.

In addition, environmental health teams from the cities near the steel plants make periodic visits to the sites looking for places where the mosquito can flourish. The company has also partnered with the municipal government, the Serra Health Municipal Secretariat, whose teams regularly monitor and analyse samples of breeding areas found in Tubarao. Our business unit was inspected for 45 days by the Serra Zoonosis Control Centre, with the participation of government agency CIPA, employees and managers, as well as representatives of partner companies.

Of the samples taken in 2015, no evidence of the mosquito which can cause Zika was found, meaning there is a low risk of a mosquito infestation developing on the company’s premises, despite it being located in a medium risk area.

We will continue with our efforts to combat the Zika virus, and add to the measures we have in place where necessary.

I am very proud of the efforts that employees have taken in our efforts to prevent the spread of the Zika virus. While our goal is to never have a reported case among employees and relatives, as the virus spreads, this will require even greater efforts and vigilance.

During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, ArcelorMittal took the reins in leading the private sector response to the spread of Ebola. It is vital that the lessons learned as a result of the Ebola epidemic crisis are carried forward, and I hope that ArcelorMittal Brazil’s response to the spread of the Zika virus reflect some of what we learned from the tragedy that devastated Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

By Benjamin Baptista, CEO ArcelorMittal Brazil 

Zika virus: what is it and how did it all start?

The Zika virus, together with dengue fever, yellow fever and the Chikungunya virus, is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Zika causes symptoms of fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis and is usually mild, with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. However, it has also been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains and some countries have even gone as fair in as to advised women not to get pregnant.

In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert highlighting the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil. The outbreak in Brazil led to reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome and pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes. Since then, the virus has been found in 21 countries in the Caribbean, North and South America.

But this virus isn’t a modern occurrence. In fact, it was first detected in 1947 in monkeys in Africa. There have since been small, short-lived outbreaks in parts of Asia and in the Pacific Islands.

In a statement, The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional office of the WHO, said: “PAHO anticipates that Zika virus will continue to spread and will likely reach all countries and territories of the region where Aedes mosquitoes are found.”

Want to know more about the Zika virus?

International SOS 
World Health Organisation
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 
Brazil’s Health Ministry 

Want to know more about ArcelorMittal’s work?
ArcelorMittal recognised with Clinton Global Citizen Award
Being an active member of our communities
Sustainability report 2014 – The Local Picture: Brazil