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Zika cases in pregnant women double in Colombia

Health officials say the number of pregnant women with the Zika virus has doubled in a week. The virus has been linked to babies being born with smaller than normal brains and is spreading through the Americas.

Health officials in Colombia announced Saturday that more than 2,000 pregnant women have now been infected with the mosquito-born Zika virus, making Colombia the second hardest-hit country after Brazil, the epicenter of the outbreak.

The virus has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect which prevents fetus' brains from developing properly. The disease has no known cure and is said to be untreatable, and can cause permanent damage to a child's motor and cognitive development. The virus is said to be carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

The national health institute said in an epidemiology bulletin that there are 20,927 confirmed cases of the disease in Colombia, with 2,116 pregnant women among them. There are so far no reports of deaths from the disease in the country.

The announcement comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned this week that the virus is

"spreading explosively"

across the Americas, predicting three to four million cases this year. The WHO is due to hold an emergency meeting on Monday to address the spread of the disease.

Preparing for the worst

Meanwhile, Colombian authorities have ordered hospitals to be prepared, as the government expects more than 600,000 people to become infected with the virus. In addition, authorities in the country have asked women to delay conceiving by six to seven months to avoid potential infection.

Pregnant woman Maria Camila Davila, infected by the Zika virus, is attended to at the Erasmo Meoz University Hospital in Cucuta, Colombia, on January 25, 2016.

Colombia and other countries have asked women to delay conceiving

The health ministry has allowed abortions, as the deformity of the fetus meets health requirements. Many women, especially those living far away from large cities, find it difficult to find legal abortion providers.

Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica and Puerto Rica have also warned women to delay conceiving.

Brazil, the hardest hit country, has reported 3,700 cases of microcephaly so far. In August the country is due to host the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The

International Olympic Committee

assured teams the Olympics would be safe from the virus, but urged visitors to protect themselves.

Watch video 01:58

Mosquito-eating fish battle Zika virus

smm/bw (Reuters, AFP)

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