(CN) - Researchers have discovered the first cases of birth defects related to the Zika virus in Colombia, which may be a preview of what Colombians will see as the mosquito-borne virus spreads through the nation.
A number of birth defects have been reported since cases of Zika infection in Latin America were initially discovered in mid-2015. Colombia has 42,000 infections of the virus - 7,653 involving pregnant women - as of March 4, the date the study was published in the weekly science journal Nature.
According to the study, an infant in northern Colombia has been diagnosed with microcephaly and two other babies have born with congenital brain abnormalities. Each of them tested positive for Zika.
These findings represent deepening evidence of a link between some birth defects and Zika. Brazil, the only nation with more infections, has had more than 5,900 cases of microcephaly reported since November, though only 82 have officially been connected to Zika.
Microcephaly is a condition that leads to reduced head size and brain damage in babies.
The scientists are members of the Colombian Collaborative Network on Zika, which is studying Zika and the disorders that are suspected to be associated with the virus. The group is also determining strategies to mitigate its impact.
Colombia gained international attention after it recommended that women delay pregnancy for up to two years in response to concerns that microcephaly may be connected with the Zika virus.
While Zika causes flu-like symptoms in adults, its suspected connection to birth defects has terrified prospective parents and forced international health agencies to speed up efforts to develop accurate tests and a reliable vaccine.
This past month, Colombian health officials linked Zika to the deaths of three adults who had Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that attacks the nervous system. Two additional deaths from Guillain-Barre were also reported, but those individuals were not infected with Zika.
A study with over 5,000 pregnant women is currently underway in Colombia, which is expected to give health officials a firmer understanding of Zika's connection to birth defects.
In the United States, a tropical-disease expert said the Gulf Coast is not prepared for Zika and that it could cause a major public health crisis of birth defects and stillbirths in the coming months.
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