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Scorpions Infest Brazilian Cities


Life in Sao Paulo, Brazil, may feel a little like a science fiction film right now. Scorpions roam the realm. They're finger-sized, armed with two pincers and, of course, a poisonous stinger. And apparently, they're everywhere.

Hamilton Carvalho is a researcher with University of Sao Paulo and joins us. Mr. Carvalho, thanks so much for being with us.

HAMILTON CARVALHO: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: How bad are the scorpions there?

CARVALHO: The yellow scorpion that we have here is one of the deadliest in the world. To give your audience a sense of the severity of these cases, the homicide rate in America is about 5 per 100,000 people. The scorpions accidents in Brazil, last year the rate was 75 per 100,000 people.

SIMON: Well, how are they popping up in everyday life? I mean, can you see one now as we speak?

CARVALHO: No, no (laughter). They are creatures that remain dormant during the day. They move, essentially, during the night. So people usually find them inside their houses at night where they hope to sting their prey. When they sting children, in particular, the child has a window of time around 30 minutes to one hour to get the anti-venom to prevent death.

SIMON: And I gather their natural predators aren't there in the city, are they?

CARVALHO: No. But the thing is, in urban settings they have plenty of food, especially cockroaches. They have shelter. They have access to water in the sewage system. So they have been growing exponentially because you have this perfect equation for their growth.

SIMON: What can be done, professor?

CARVALHO: If you use an ultraviolet flashlight, you can spot them easily at night because their skin reflects that kind of light. So you have to have a structure to catch them. You must have a public health system prepared for this epidemic situation, which is not the case yet.

SIMON: Yeah. Mr. Carvalho, years ago I did a story that involved spending time, including the night, with uh, with youngsters who lived on the street there in Sao Paulo. There are a lot of people, kids especially, who have to bed down in the street at night. They must be particularly vulnerable to being attacked by scorpions.

CARVALHO: Yeah. We have the - fortunately, this problem has been ameliorated over the years. We have fewer children living in the streets, but we have - we still have a high level of poverty and inequality. So this problem is compounded by the fact that basic sanitation is not widespread in the city or, by the way, in the entire country. So the more garbage you have, the more open sewage you have, the more you're inviting the scorpions to occupy these areas and to proliferate.

SIMON: Hamilton Carvalho, the University of Sao Paulo. Thanks so much for being with us. And good luck, sir.

CARVALHO: Thank you.