Zika Virus Now in 20 Latin American Countries; List Includes Popular Tourist Destinations

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Jan 12, 2017 09:36 AM EST

There are about 20 countries in total that have been affected by the Zika virus outbreak in the Latin American region and health experts say that the list could only grow longer.

The virus has found its way across countries like Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, and Venezuela. And, the infected areas also include those that tourists frequently make a visit to, according to NBC News. 

Health officials in different countries were already cautioning pregnant women about the possibility of their newborn babies having a birth defect referred to as microcephaly, which could be linked to the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

Microcephaly is a rare neurological condition in which an infant's head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex, says Mayo Clinic. The brain could have some problem in its development during the baby's stay inside the womb, or it could also stop from growing after the child is born.

The authorities have now come to a point where they are already advising women from their countries to put off on the their plans to get pregnant in order to avoid the possibility of these birth defects among their babies.

"We are doing this because I believe it's a good way to communicate the risk, to tell people that there could be serious consequences," said Alejandro Gaviria, Colombia's health minister, who is one of those health experts urging their local women to delay pregnancies six to eight months, as per ABC News.

Colombia already has a reported 560 cases of pregnant women infected with the virus, which is the second-highest Zika infection rate so far. In El Salvador, the local health ministry said that they were suspecting about 96 pregnant women that might have been infected by the virus and already cautioned women in the country to delay pregnancy until 2018.

Over in Jamaica, the health officials also advised women to postpone their pregnancy plans for the next six to 12 months. This is despite the fact that there has been no reported cases of infection in the country.

According to the European Centers for Disease Control, or ECDC, the Zika virus has two strains. One strain comes from Africa and the other one originated from Asia. it is the latter that has been causing the current outbreak in the region.

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