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Brazil's miners ramp up vaccination campaigns amid yellow fever outbreak

Minas Gerais, the southeastern Brazilian state hosting most mining operations in the country, continues to battle a severe yellow fever outbreak that led authorities to declare a state of emergency in January.

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From July 1, 2017, to Feb. 16, 2018, Brazil's Ministry of Health recorded 464 confirmed cases of yellow fever and 154 deaths, with a further 478 under investigation, according to a Feb. 16 release. Alongside the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Minas Gerais has been the most affected and continues to be subject to an intense vaccination campaign that authorities hope will prevent further spreading of the mosquito-borne disease.

Mining operations in the Minas Gerais area have so far not been affected, companies including Vale SA, Kinross Gold Corp., AMG Advanced Metallurgical Group NV, Nexa Resources SA and Alcoa Corp. told S&P Global Market Intelligence. However, many introduced protective measures and are vigilant.

"Currently, we have not faced any disruption to our operations in Brazil as a result of the situation," AMG Advanced Metallurgical's senior vice president Steve Daniels noted in an email to S&P Global Market Intelligence. "We are monitoring the situation very closely and have provided vaccinations to our workforce, contractors, and community neighbors who have not already received it. To date, we distribute more than 120 vaccinations."

Alcoa's view on the matter is similar, according to spokesperson Jim Beck. "We have not had any outbreaks at our locations in Brazil, but we have implemented proactive steps to protect our employees by offering vaccines and working to control mosquito populations," he told S&P Global Market Intelligence.

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Yellow fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic disease transmitted to humans through mosquitoes, and symptoms typically include fever, headache, jaundice, muscle pain and nausea. A small proportion of patients who contract the virus develop severe symptoms and die within seven to 10 days.

Vaccination campaigns against the disease have been supported by the World Health Organization, which assessed in mid-January that the number of epizootics continues to be a concern. An epizootic is an outbreak of disease in a nonhuman animal population, analogous to an epidemic for humans.

Brazil's Ministry of Health recently reiterated its recommendation that states continue to vaccinate until reaching high coverage, presently aiming for around 20 million people. However, the campaign is lagging behind the target, and the current outbreak is also affecting areas not previously considered at risk.

Companies operating in potential risk zones have introduced awareness programs to protect employees. Nexa Resources has done so since a yellow fever outbreak in Brazil in 2017.

"(Nexa) requests a proof of vaccination from employees, and the same procedure is adopted in the hiring of new ones," a spokesperson for the company told S&P Global Market Intelligence, noting that operations remain unaffected. "Nexa also promotes prevention actions against the proliferation of Aedes aegypti, a vector of various diseases, in all its units." Aedes aegypti is another name for the mosquito that spreads viruses and diseases such as yellow fever and the Zika virus.

Kinross is "closely monitoring" the situation and educates workers about preventive actions such as vaccinations and avoiding rural and other endemic areas.

Vale, Brazil's biggest mining company, has also upped internal communication and vaccination campaigns, including a telephone service for employees and their families.

"Considering the company's concern with endemic diseases and epidemics, since 2012 Vale adopts the Vale Travelers Healthcare Service, taking actions for guidance, vaccination, provision of bug repellents and monitoring," spokesperson Fatima Cristina explained to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

"Regarding the yellow fever, since 2016, when the number of cases of the disease increased, Vale has developed numerous partnerships with municipal health departments aiming to offer mobile off-premises vaccination stations and to provide orientation lectures and vaccines, among other actions."

Vale has also reinforced actions to intensify combating possible breeding grounds of the mosquito that transmits yellow fever within the company's operational areas, according to Cristina.

"Employees are oriented to do the same at home. These actions include field visits and health and safety discussions among managers and their teams."

Minas Gerais hosts most of Brazil's mining operations, in particular iron ore productions. According to data by S&P Global Market Intelligence, there are close to 300 active mining properties across Brazil's 26 states, of which nearly one-third are located in Minas Gerais.

The state of emergency will continue to be in place for six months.