The island of Puerto Rico has reported its first case of the mosquito-borne virus Zika which has been linked to a serious birth defect. Health Secretary Ana Rius said the unidentified patient lives in the island's eastern region and has not travelled recently.
In a statement, Puerto Rican Congressman Pedro Pierluisi said: "There is no reason for alarm, and the public should continue to take common-sense steps to avoid mosquito bites." Pierluisi said he expects experts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to visit the island early this month to educate local physicians to "properly diagnose and treat the virus".
The Zika virus has been associated with microcephaly, a condition in which a baby is born with an underdeveloped brain. In many cases, the condition can also result in premature deaths.
Native to Africa, the virus was first reported in South America in 2014. Since then, it has spread rapidly across Brazil, Panama, Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico, Suriname, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Guatemala and Paraguay. There have also been cases in Asia and the Pacific.
Over the past year, Brazil has noted 2700 cases of babies being born with microcephaly. Officials believe there is a correlation between the virus and a baby's growth after an autopsy done on a baby with microcephaly showed the presence of the Zika virus.
Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries yellow fever, dengue fever and chikungunya, is responsible for the spread of Zika. Symptoms of the virus take three to seven days to show and typically include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. There is no vaccine to prevent Zika or a specific medicine to treat it.
Tourists to Puerto Rico and other countries affected by the virus are being asked to take extra precautions by wearing clothes that cover their arms and legs. They have also been urged to use mosquito repellents.