BOGOTA — More than 25,000 people living in Colombia have been infected with the Zika virus, and over 3,100 of them are pregnant women. Though not yet proven, there are reports from Brazil of children being born with Microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes due to mothers being infected with the virus.

Zika is a mosquito-borne disease that was first discovered in the Zika forest of Uganda in 1947. However, there were very few cases of Zika in humans until an outbreak in 2007 when 75% of the population of the Micronesian island Yap was infected.

Zika virus does not currently have a vaccine, but there are also no reported deaths directly linked to the virus. The symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, as well as muscle pain and headache. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have said that only about 20% of the people infected with the virus will ever become ill and display any symptoms. Typically, the virus and symptoms last no longer than a week.

While the CDC are still researching the effects of the Zika virus on unborn babies, they have warned pregnant women not to travel to countries with Zika, and for people living in these areas that are planning on becoming pregnant to delay this for the time being.

The number of babies born in Brazil with suspected Microcephaly between October 2015 and January 2016 is now at 4,000, whereas in 2014 there were only 150 cases. Brazilian authorities believe the massive increase to be linked to the latest outbreak of the Zika virus.

Microcephaly is a condition where that baby is born with an abnormally small head that can lead to many different problems including seizures, developmental delay like problems with speech or other developmental milestones (sitting, standing, and walking), intellectual disability (decreased ability to learn and function in daily life), problems with movement and balance, feeding problems (difficulty swallowing), hearing loss and vision problems.

Colombia’s President, Juan Manuel Santos, along with health officials said that the number of infected in Colombia alone was at 25,645, of which 3,177 were pregnant women.

Popular tourist destinations such as Cartagena and Santa Marta have also reported 11,000 cases of Zika virus.

The Colombian government has issued a statement allowing pregnant women infected with the Zika virus to access much restricted abortion services. On February 5, local media reported the first case of an abortion due to the Zika virus in the country.

 – Paul Carlsen, Correspondent (South America)

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