Colombia confirms two microcephaly cases linked to Zika virus

Colombia's health ministry confirms that the Andean nation has linked two microcephaly cases to the Zika virus.(photo grabbed from Reuters video)
Colombia’s health ministry confirms that the Andean nation has linked two microcephaly cases to the Zika virus. (Photo grabbed from Reuters video)

CALI, Colombia (Reuters) – Two cases of microcephaly linked to the Zika virus have been confirmed in Colombia, but there has been no explosion of cases of the birth defect, the health ministry said on Thursday (April 14).

Public health officials have been concerned about the possibility of a surge in the rare birth defect, seen in worrisome numbers in Brazil, as the mosquito-borne virus spreads rapidly in Latin America and the Caribbean.

More than 1,100 Zika-related cases of microcephaly have been confirmed in Brazil, but the new figures indicated that its neighbor Colombia is not yet experiencing the same type of increase.

There have been 33 microcephaly cases recorded this year in Colombia associated with various causes, the health ministry said in a statement. Eighteen were investigated for a suspected link to Zika, and 16 of those cases were ruled out, it said.

Babies with microcephaly are born with unusually small heads that can result in developmental problems.

“Right now, there is not an explosion of cases of microcephaly,” vice health minister Fernando Ruiz said, adding that in typical years Colombia records 11 or 12 cases a month. “Rather, we have a number of cases that are, for now, within the normal range that we see every year, every month. That could change in the future.”

There eventually could be a total of between 95 and 300 cases of microcephaly in Colombia this year, the ministry said.

U.S. health authorities on Wednesday announced their conclusion that infection with the Zika virus during pregnancy causes microcephaly in babies.

The World Health Organization has said there is a strong scientific consensus that Zika can cause microcephaly as well as Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that can result in paralysis.

Colombia’s national health institute director, Martha Lucia Ospina, said figures previously put forward by the WHO, the U.N. health agency, showing eight babies in the country with Zika-linked microcephaly were incorrect and there are only two confirmed cases.

There were previous reports of Zika-linked microcephaly in Colombia, but until Thursday health officials had said they could not confirm any cases caused by the virus.

There have been more than 60,000 reported cases of Zika infections in Colombia, including more than 11,000 in pregnant women, the national health institute said last week.

Many Colombian pregnant women infected with Zika are not due to give birth until May or later, but more than 2,700 have already given birth, officials said.