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US investigates reports of 14 sexually transmitted Zika cases as Brazil tackles virus

US health officials are investigating 14 cases of Zika infections that may have been spread through sex. The WHO, meanwhile, has lauded Brazil's efforts to stop the spread of the virus ahead of the Summer Olympics.

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Brazil in battle against Zika virus

On Tuesday, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it was investigating 14 Zika possible cases that might have been sexually transmitted.

The cases include those of two women whose infections have already been confirmed and four instances in which preliminary tests have indicated that the women were infected. Eight other cases are still being investigated. The CDC said several of the 14 women were pregnant, but refused to give further details.

So far, all 82 Zika infections diagnosed in the United States have involved people who traveled to regions hardest hit by the outbreak.

Though the CDC announced that more research is needed, there have been two reported cases where Zika was thought to have been transmitted sexually, including one in the state of Texas, and at least two other reports the virus's being found in semen.

The CDC advises people who have been to affected areas to use a condom when having sex, especially if one partner is pregnant, as the virus has been linked to birth defects. The CDC has also recommended that pregnant women postpone trips to more than 30 destinations currently tackling the virus.

'Very good plan' to tackle Zika

Following a meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Tuesday, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan said the Brazilian government was doing all that it could to fight the spread of the virus, which is also transmitted by mosquitoes.

"I want to reassure you that the government is working very closely with the international Olympic movement, with the local organizing committee, supported by the WHO, to make sure we have a very good work plan to target the mosquito, and to make sure that people who will come here either as visitors or athletes will get the maximum protection they need," Chan said.

"I am confident the government can do it," Chan told reporters.

Many scientists believe that a recent spike in microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads, could be linked to the Zika virus.

Brazil's Health Ministry said Tuesday that the number of confirmed and suspected cases of microcephaly had risen to 4,690 from 4,443 a week earlier. Of these, the number of confirmed cases had climbed to 583 from 508.

The Zika virus is largely spread by the same kind of mosquito that transmits other tropical diseases, including dengue and chikungunya. Although there is no definitive proof that the virus is causing the birth defects, WHO has declared Zika a global emergency.

Some 1.5 million people have been infected with the Zika virus in Brazil since early 2015, but only three have died. There is currently no cure or vaccine for Zika, and the WHO has estimated that development of a immunization might take 18 months.

ksb/cmk (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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