Shortly after the 2014 World Cup, doctors start to notice patients trickling into public hospitals in Natal, capital of the state of Rio Grande do Norte, about 200 miles up the coast from Recife. Natal had been one of the host cities of the soccer championship, which draws fans from all over the world. A second theory, proposed by French scientists, who had investigated the outbreak in Polynesia, was that it arrived a few weeks later, during the Va’a World Sprint, a canoe race in Rio that attracted teams from several Polynesian islands. Almost all victims had the same symptoms: a flat pinkish rash, bloodshot eyes, fever, joint pain and headaches. None were desperately ill, but the similarities were striking. Local epidemiologist:
That scared some patients and doctors, and my team. We knew nothing other than that it might be some kind of light dengue.
In January, 100 infected people show up at the state’s hospitals in one day. Infectious disease specialist:
We alerted the federal authorities that we were dealing with something urgent and new. But their reaction was sluggish.