samba dancer Diana Prado performs in a carnival parade

Rio revellers pay tribute to Michael Jackson in street Carnival band

Rio de Janeiro revellers gather at a Michael Jackson-themed street Carnival party amid concerns of the rapidly spreading mosquito-borne Zika virus.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL (FEBRUARY 7, 2016) (REUTERS) – To the beat of Samba versions of “Thriller” and “Billie Jean”, thousands of revellers in Rio de Janeiro partied early on Sunday (February 7) in one of the city’s street Carnival parades that pays tribute to the late “King of Pop”.

The third edition of the Michael Jackson-themed street party, dubbed “Thriller Eletrico”, drew a large crowd to a park in Rio’s Vila Isabel neighbourhood.

Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival celebration is famous for the hundreds of street parties that are scattered across the city drawing millions of locals and tourists alike in a unique festive atmosphere of colour and sound.

Michael Jackson fan, Gabriele Rocha, said her idol’s hits make for the perfect template for a Carnival party.

“I’m a fan (of Michael Jackson) since 2005. So as soon as this Carnival band came up, I decided I had to come here. It’s wonderful because I love the Samba rhythms and I love Michael, so putting those two together is perfect. I love this,” she said.

But this year’s Carnival comes amid fears of the rapidly spreading mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has been linked to thousands of newborns with serious birth defects in Brazil.

Earlier this week, Brazilian researchers identified Zika in the saliva and urine of two patients.

While it is not known if such body fluids could transmit the virus, the discovery could make pregnant revellers wary of kissing strangers during the country’s often uninhibited Carnival festivities.

Reveller Juliana Arauj, said she doubted Brazilians would hold back on kissing because of Zika virus warnings.

“We already have problems with sexually transmitted diseases and people continue to practice unprotected sex and kissing everyone. This (Zika virus) is another problem we have to deal with, but I don’t think people will give up kissing and loving each other because of that. They will just carry on,” she said.

British tourist, Matthew Stancliffe, who travelled to Rio to enjoy Carnival, played down concerns over the illness.

“When we found out more about the illness I’m now not so worried, because it stays in your system for one week and afterwards if you go home it clears and there’s no lasting impact. So I think that if I were pregnant or had a girlfriend that was pregnant, and for many people in the country it is very worrying, but for me I’m not too worried,” he said.

His friend, Martha Scofield, said her parents had warned her about Zika, but she was not very worried about the illness.

“I didn’t know that, I didn’t know it was possible to get it (Zika virus) from kisses, so I’m pretty shocked. I was scared coming out here and my parents were telling, ‘you need to be careful’ and I’ve been bitten (by mosquitoes) lots of times. But what can you do? There’s not much you can do really, so I m going to come and have a good time so just be careful. I don’t plan to get pregnant, so it would be more scary if I was pregnant,” she said.

While Brazilians have been rushing to buy repellant, roughly 80 percent of the people who contract the virus show no symptoms at all.

U.S. health officials advised more stringent measures for monitoring pregnant women for Zika and for preventing sexual transmission of the virus.

The disease that has spread rapidly through the Americas and led to a global health scare over its possible link to severe birth defects, is primarily transmitted by mosquito. The possibility of infection via body fluids could complicate efforts to combat the outbreak.