31 Jan 2016

Zika cases soar in Colombia

1:29 pm on 31 January 2016

The number of pregnant women in Colombia with the zika virus has doubled in a week to nearly 2000, health officials say.

A health worker fumigates against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito in Cali, Colombia.

A health worker fumigates against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito in Cali, Colombia. Photo: AFP

With 20,000 people confirmed as having the virus, Colombia is now the second most infected country in the world after Brazil.

The officials said the number of pregnant women confirmed to have the zika virus has shot up to about 1900. There are another 200 suspected cases.

The mosquito-borne disease has been linked to thousands of severe birth defects in Brazil.

That country has seen a surge in babies with microcephaly, or abnormally small brains, born from mothers infected with zika, although there is no definitive proof zika was the cause.

A physiotherapist in Brazil holds a baby suffering from microcephalia.

A physiotherapist in Brazil holds a baby suffering from microcephalia. Photo: AFP

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned the virus is "spreading explosively". It has already swept through 23 countries in the Americas.

WHO predicts there could be up to 4 million cases this year.

The organisation will meet on Monday to decide whether zika should be treated as a global emergency.

Jamaica and Peru reported their first confirmed cases over the weekend, with the Peruvian President Ollanta Humala stressing that the patient contracted the disease outside of the country.

Zika symptoms are mild, causing a low fever, joint pain, headaches, a rash and conjunctivitis.

Colombia has also said it had seen an increase in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder that can cause temporary paralysis, that has also been linked to zika.

The outbreak has sparked health warnings and eradication campaigns, with Brazil deploying troops and Colombia launching a mass fumigation campaign to fight mosquitoes.

Colombia and other Latin American countries have advised women to delay getting pregnant.

- BBC

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs