Three people have died after contracting the mosquito borne-Zika virus in Colombia, according to local health officials.
Colombia's National Health Institute (INS) said Friday that the patients died after becoming infected with the virus and developing a rare neurological disorder.
"We have confirmed and attributed three deaths to Zika," said Martha Lucia Ospina, the head of Colombia's National Health Institute. "In this case, the three deaths were preceded by Guillain-Barre syndrome."
"The world is realizing that Zika can be deadly," Ospina continued. "The mortality rate is not very high, but it can be deadly."
Colombian health officials reported the deaths of a man and a women in second city, Medellin, on Thursday after they were confirmed to be carriers of Zika and showed symptoms of the Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Another man died in November after he contracted the fever.
Guillain-Barre syndrome can cause muscle weakness, paralysis and sometimes death, although most people recover.
Health minister Alejandro Gaviria told The Guardian that another two people recently died from Guillain-Barre, although it has yet to be established if they were infected by Zika.
The patients are the first confirmed deaths related to the virus that is also linked with the birth defect microcephaly, a condition that causes abnormally small heads in newborns.
The link to the rare disorder has opened a debate across the largely Catholic Americas regarding the availability and legality of abortion. Throughout much of the region abortion is heavily restricted or illegal.
As teleSUR reported on Saturday, a pregnant Colombian woman sought an abortion after her unborn baby had been diagnosed with microcephaly.
In Colombia a fetus may only be aborted when the pregnancy threatens the life or health of the mother; when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest; or when there is the existence of life-threatening fetal malformations.
Since the Zika virus started its sweep across Latin America late last year there have been around 4,000 cases of microcephaly, with 3,400 of those cases recorded in Brazil.
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