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More than 3,100 pregnant women in Colombia have Zika virus: govt

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has confirmed that more than 25,000 people, including expectant mothers, are infected with Zika in his country. The virus has been linked to rare birth defects.

President Juan Manuel Santos and health officials gave the updated statistics in a TV broadcast on Saturday.

Announcing that 25,645 people - including 3,177 pregnant women - had been infected in Colombia, Santos said the government would be working to fumigate urban areas and help families rid their homes of stagnant water, a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which carry the virus.

"The projection is that we could end up having 600,000 cases," Santos said.

While Brazil has seen a surge in babies born with Zika-linked microcephaly - in which babies are born with smaller heads and brains - Colombia has not, he said.

"There is not a single case of a baby with microcephaly coming from a woman who has Zika," Santos told viewers.

Cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare but serious condition that can cause paralysis, were up 66 percent, to almost 1,000, he said. Some governments have linked the syndrome to Zika infection.

Advice to women

Colombia's government will permit

abortions for pregnant women with Zika.

Officials have also urged women to delay pregnancy for six to eight months after contracting the virus. Scientists have also found live virus in saliva and urine samples, raising the fear that the virus could spread through other means.

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After Brazil, Colombia is reported to be the country affected most by the Zika outbreak. Colombian Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria has said he believes three deaths are connected with the virus.

The country's Caribbean region, which includes popular tourist destinations Cartagena and Santa Marta, has reported more than 11,000 cases. The province of Norte de Santander has seen nearly 5,000 cases, according to official statistics.

The World Health Organization, which has

declared the rise in Zika-linked birth defects an international emergency,

warns that the virus could spread worldwide.

mm/cmk (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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