The Central American nation of Honduras “strongly suspects” it has detected its first case of an unborn child with microcephaly in a pregnant woman infected with the Zika virus, the country’s deputy health minister Francis Contreras said on Monday.
The mother is five months pregnant, and Contreras warned it would not be certain her child had developed microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies, until she gave birth.
“We strongly suspect that we could be facing a case of microcephaly,” Contreras told local radio.
U.S. health officials have concluded that Zika infections in pregnant women can cause microcephaly. The World Health Organization 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 connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last autumn in Brazil, which has now confirmed more than 1,100 cases of microcephaly that it considers to be related to Zika infections in the mothers.
Zika is carried by mosquitoes, which transmit the virus to humans. A small number of cases of sexual transmission have been reported in the United States and elsewhere. A case of suspected transmission through a blood transfusion in Brazil has raised questions about other ways that Zika may spread.
The Zika outbreak is affecting large parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, with Brazil the hardest hit so far.
Honduras is the Central American country with the highest number of Zika cases, with 19,000 infections, and 238 pregnant women infected. So far, it has detected 78 Guillain-Barre cases.
In Panama, where there are 264 people infected with the Zika virus, at least four babies have been born with microcephaly whose mothers were infected with Zika.