Colombia declares end to Zika epidemic inside country

The disease has infected nearly 100,000 Colombians and caused 21 cases of microcephaly.

Picture: Marvin Recinos/AFP.

BOGOTA- The epidemic of the Zika virus has officially ended in Colombia, the country's vice health minister said on Monday, 10 months after the mosquito-borne illness arrived in the Andean nation.

The disease, which the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says can cause the devastating birth defect microcephaly, has infected nearly 100,000 Colombians and caused 21 cases of microcephaly. British experts say the outbreak will take two to three years to burn out.

Vice Health Minister Fernando Ruiz told journalists that the number of infections has been falling by 600 cases a week, though the declaration does not mean an end to infections.

There will be an uptick of cases of microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies, in September and October, Ruiz said, when pregnant women infected during the peak of the epidemic will give birth.

Before the Zika outbreak, there were normally around 140 cases of microcephaly per year. Brazil has confirmed more than 1,600 cases of microcephaly that it considers to be related to Zika infections in mothers.

The World Health Organisation has said there is strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.

The Zika outbreak is affecting large parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, with Brazil the hardest hit so far. It is likely to spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile, the WHO has said.

The WHO estimates Zika could eventually affect as many as 4 million people in the region and may spread to parts of Africa and Asia.

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, which is a close cousin of dengue and chikungunya and causes mild fever, rash and red eyes. An estimated 80 percent of people infected have no symptoms, making it difficult for pregnant women to know whether they have been infected.