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Colombia Reports First Zika-Linked Deaths

(CN) - Health officials in Colombia reported the first deaths connected to the Zika virus, after three infected people in Colombia died from a disease that attacks the nervous system researchers believe is linked to Zika.

This disease, known as Guillain-Barre syndrome, causes paralysis and has led to five deaths, including three patients who had been diagnosed with the Zika virus.

The confirmation that the dead also had Zika is the latest development in a week that has been dominated by fear of the virus and the discovery of additional risks and side effects.

"The world is realizing that Zika can be deadly," Martha Lucia Ospina, head of Colombia's National Health Institute, said. "The mortality rate is not very high but it can be deadly."

Colombia has second-most confirmed Zika infections at over 20,500. Brazil, where much of the concern over the virus's possible connection to microcephaly began, has over 500,000 potential cases.

Two additional deaths in Colombia stemming from Guillain-Barre have yet to be connected to Zika.

These cases add to the concern that health officials and citizens of the affected countries have expressed over the virus, which must be studied further to prove some of its suspected side effects and methods of transmission.

Health officials in Latin America have advised men to wear condoms if they engage in sexual activities with pregnant women due to the potential for microcephaly, which can lead to brain damage and abnormally small heads in babies.

Brazil has gone a step further.

The nation - which will host the Summer Olympics beginning six months from Friday - recommended that pregnant women not kiss anyone after scientists discovered that Zika was active in saliva and urine of two infected patients. However, it has not been determined whether the virus can be transmitted through either fluid.

The transmission of Zika through kissing is particularly concerning with the start of Carnival on Friday, the same day as discoveries that virus is active in urine and saliva were made.

Carnival famous for its music, art and culture, and is expected to attract about one million visitors this year. Meanwhile, Rio de Janeiro will host the Summer Olympics beginning in August.

Earlier this week, Texas reported the first U.S. case of Zika being transmitted sexually. A patient got the virus by having sex with someone who was bitten by an infected mosquito in Venezuela.

Amid the fear, researchers across the world doing research to better understand, treat and prevent the virus.

Researchers in Australia are attempting to breed mosquitoes and injecting their eggs with Wolbachia bacteria, which inhibit Zika, dengue fever, and other types of flavivirus. Offspring of mosquitoes that have Wolbachia inherit the virus as well.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health revealed its research priorities for Zika on Friday. These include studying its suspected link to microcephaly, the possible transmission of the virus via reproductive fluids and modifying existing research to test pregnant women and infants for Zika.

More than 30 nations and territories have reported active Zika transmissions.

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