Colombia reports first two Zika-linked microcephaly cases

A woman holds a leaflet with information on the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries Zika, on February 17, 2016, in Cali, Colombia

Bogota (AFP) – Colombian health authorities on Thursday reported the country’s first two cases of microcephaly associated with Zika, the day after US scientists concluded the virus can cause babies to be born with abnormally small heads.

Colombia has the second largest number of Zika cases in Latin America after Brazil, putting it on the leading edge of a mosquito-borne epidemic that has spread as far north as the United States.

“Colombia confirmed the two first cases of microcephaly associated with Zika,” Colombia’s public health ministry said in a statement.

They were from a group of 33 microcephaly cases reported in Colombia. The ministry said 16 cases have been ruled out as associated with Zika, but 15 others are still under review.

Fernando Ruiz, the deputy health minister, told a news conference that more cases of microcephaly were expected in babies born between May and September. 

Some 70,000 clinical cases of Zika have been reported to date in Colombia, and as many as 200,000 cases are expected before the epidemic peaks.

Health authorities project Colombia could see between 95 and 300 cases of microcephaly, and 380 of Guillain-Barre, another Zika-linked disorder that causes the immune system to attack parts of the nervous system that controls muscle strength.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday announced that its scientists have now concluded that Zika “is a cause of microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects.”

Microcephaly is a rare but irreversible condition in which babies are born with small heads and damaged brains.

Brazil, where the Zika virus was first detected in Latin America in early 2015, has had a surge in cases of microcephaly coinciding with the Zika outbreak.

“It is now clear that the virus causes microcephaly,” CDC chief Tom Frieden said.