Colombia issues alert over expanding spread of Zika virus

A researcher checks mosquito traps in the Bello municipality, Antioquia department, Colombia.
A researcher checks mosquito traps in the Bello municipality, Antioquia department, Colombia. PHOTO: AFP

BOGOTA (AFP) - Colombia issued an alert over the Zika virus, which has already infected 13,800 people in the country, as it warned that the number is likely to uptick as the disease spreads.

The Ministry of Health advised mayors of towns below a certain elevation to "declare a green alert for public and private hospitals facing a possible increase in Zika cases".

All municipalities located below 2,200m were urged to issue an alert, the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday (Jan 26).

"This warning is issued because the Zika infection is currently in an expansion phase," said Mr Luis Fernando Correa, head of the ministry's Office of Emergency Management and Disaster.

The virus has proliferated across a number of Latin American and Caribbean countries, causing particular alarm among pregnant women because it is linked to the birth of babies with abnormally small heads, a condition known as microcephaly.

Already in Brazil, Zika has been linked to 3,893 cases of microcephaly.

The virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can also carry dengue and chikungunya, and there is no cure or vaccine.

Its flu-like symptoms - fever, headache and body ache - are accompanied by rashes or outbreaks that appear three to 12 days after a bite from an infected mosquito.

Colombia, which has been hit the hardest by the disease after Brazil, expects to have more than 600,000 cases this year.

As of Jan 16, there have been a total of 13,808 confirmed cases in Colombia, which includes 890 pregnant women, plus an additional 2,611 suspected cases.