BOGOTA • More than 2,100 pregnant Colombian women are infected with the mosquito-borne Zika virus, the country's national health institute said, as the disease continues its spread across the Americas.
The virus has been linked to the devastating birth defect, microcephaly, which prevents foetuses' brains from developing properly. There is no vaccine or treatment.
There are 20,297 confirmed cases of the disease in Colombia, the national health institute said in an epidemiology bulletin on Saturday, and among them are 2,116 pregnant women.
There are so far no reported cases of microcephaly or deaths from the virus in Colombia.
The institute said 37.2 per cent of the pregnant women with Zika live in Norte de Santander province, along the eastern border with Venezuela.
Earlier figures from the Health Ministry showed that 560 pregnant women had the disease, out of more than 13,500 infections.
Zika cases have been confirmed in 23 countries and territories in the Americas, and scientists are racing to develop a vaccine for the virus.
Nearly half of Colombia's Zika cases have been reported in the country's Caribbean region, the bulletin said. More than 60 per cent of those infected are women.
The Health Ministry has said that Zika infection falls within the requirements women must meet to get abortions in the country, which restricts the procedure unless patients are victims of rape, have significant medical problems or the foetus is fatally deformed.
Many women, especially those living far from large cities, struggle to find abortion providers even when they meet the legal requirements and illegal abortions are widespread.
The government has urged women to delay pregnancy for six to eight months to avoid potential infection. Officials expect up to 700,000 cases.
Brazil is the country hit hardest by the disease. It has reported around 3,700 cases of microcephaly, strongly suspected to be related to Zika.
The rapid spread of the Zika virus across Brazil is giving the local authorities a headache as the country is gearing up for the annual carnival celebrations that start on Friday.
In the past few weeks, the country's health authorities have increased preventive measures and awareness campaigns in the hope of reducing the disease's impact in major tourist cities such as Rio de Janeiro.
Healthcare agents have been going from door to door in the city in search of areas where Aedes larvae might be.
Citizens have been advised to use insect repellent and wear long-sleeved clothing. Unfortunately, the latter is not a particularly easy thing to do, given Rio's current scorching summer heat.
The World Health Organisation has said that as many as four million people in the Americas may become infected with the virus.
Meanwhile, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes gave the assurance on Saturday that the Zika virus would not represent any threat for the upcoming Olympic Games.
The Olympic Games will take place in August when Brazil is in winter, a season when "there are no (disease-transmitting) mosquitoes" in the Brazilian city due to the low temperatures, Mr Paes told local media.
"It is obvious that Zika is a problem, but it is a problem for us that are here at this moment. It is not a problem for the Olympic Games," explained the mayor, adding that the city council is working on an intense fumigation plan for the Olympic buildings, stadiums and accommodation.