The latest: Latin America, Caribbean leaders talk about Zika

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- The latest on the fight against the Zika virus that health officials suspect is linked to a wave of birth defects in Brazil. (All times local):

8:10 p.m.

The Zika outbreak is on everyone's mind at a meeting of the leaders of 22 Latin American and Caribbean nations being held in Quito, Ecuador.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos tells reporters that the leaders decided Wednesday that their health ministers should meet soon to exchange information on their experiences. Santos says the epidemic is so new there isn't a lot of data yet.

Colombia's health minister has said the South American nation has more than 16,400 confirmed or suspected cases of Zika. Santos says 170 communities have been affected and the virus could affect as many as 600,000 people in his country this year.


7:55 p.m.

Nicaragua is reporting the Central American nation's first known cases of the Zika virus in two women in the capital of Managua.

Government spokeswoman Rosario Murillo says the women display symptoms including fever, joint pain, rash and red eyes. Health Ministry lab tests confirmed the presence of Zika.

Murillo said Wednesday that both women are in satisfactory condition.

She did not say whether they are believed to have contracted the virus in Nicaragua or elsewhere, nor whether they may be pregnant.

Brazilian officials believe Zika infections may be linked to a wave of cases of a rare severe birth defect known as microcephaly.


7:40 p.m.

Authorities in Argentina are testing a Colombian woman who lives in Buenos Aires to see if she is infected with the Zika virus.

Officials say the 23-year-old woman may have become ill while in Colombia. Her name has not been released.

The head of a body in Argentina's capital formed to handle cases of illnesses transmitted by the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito says the woman began showing symptoms consist with dengue, Zika or chikungunya early in January.

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Committee head Eduardo Lopez tells local media that the risk of Zika "continues being very low in Argentina." According to Argentina's health ministry, three other suspected Zika cases turned out to be negative.


5:00 p.m.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the U.S. government will make a more concerted effort in the days ahead to communicate with Americans about the risks associated with the Zika virus and steps they can take to avoid it.

Earnest says President Barack Obama has no plans at this point to appoint a "Zika czar" in the same way it selected someone to coordinate the administration's response to Ebola.

Earnest says the differing responses from the administration reflect the significant difference between the two diseases. The Ebola virus is often fatal if untreated. He says that for women who are not pregnant and for men, the impact of contracting the Zika virus is generally mild.

Earnest says he anticipates that any response in the U.S. that requires more federal funding would go toward building up the nation's broader health infrastructure.


3:20 p.m.

Brazil's Health Ministry says it's now recorded 4,120 suspected cases of microcephaly, a rare brain defect in babies that officials fear may be linked to the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

But Wednesday's report says only 270 of those cases have been confirmed. And microcephaly was ruled out in 462 of the cases. That leaves 3,448 still under investigation.

The reports cover the period from Oct. 22 to Jan. 23.

The ministry statement says laboratories are trying to determine a link between the Zika virus and microcephaly, which also can be caused by factors such as herpes, rubella and syphilis.


12:30 p.m.

Health officials in Helsinki say that a Finnish tourist was infected by the Zika virus after visiting the Maldives last summer.

Epidemiologist Jussi Sane at the National Institute for Health and Welfare says it was a minor infection and the man was well and had been allowed home soon after being treated by doctors in June 2015.

Sane said Wednesday that it was the first known case in which the infection was linked to the Maldives. The virus has long been present in Africa and Asia and it's caused alarm after appearing last year in Brazil, where it's suspected of causing birth defects.


12:10 p.m.

Venezuela's medical community is demanding the government publish statistics about infections by the Zika virus and warning it could already be alarmingly widespread.

Venezuela's Ministry of Health has so far only confirmed the presence of the mosquito-borne illness in the country bordering Brazil, where Zika is suspected of causing birth defects.

The ministry stopped publishing data on all epidemic diseases a year ago.

Former Health Minister Jose Felix Oletta says it is unacceptable that the government has waited so long to release Zika statistics and begin working to contain the virus.

Non-government organizations have reported a sharp increase in unusual fevers here.


11:50 a.m.

Portugal's National Director for Health says five Portuguese are infected with Zika after visiting Brazil.

Francisco Jorge tells public broadcaster RTP there's one other "very probable" but unconfirmed case of a Portuguese who recently visited Colombia. All are adults, he said, without providing further details.

European officials have said they expect to see cases of the Zika virus among travelers, but say local transmission is unlikely.


10:35 a.m.

Ugandan researchers say the mosquito-transmitted Zika virus is not considered a threat in the African country where it was first discovered in a monkey in 1947.

Virologist Julius Lutwama with the Uganda Virus Research Institute said Wednesday there has never been a known outbreak in Uganda, though a few samples have tested positive over the years.

He says Zika is "not a very important disease" on a continent where malaria, also transmitted by mosquitoes, is the major killer.

Zika virus is named for a forest just outside Uganda's capital, Kampala, where it was first identified.


8:40 a.m.

Danish hospital officials say a Danish tourist has been infected by the Zika virus after visiting southern and central America.

The Aarhus University Hospital says the patient ran a fever, had a headache and muscle aches and was discovered as having the virus on Tuesday.

There hospital released no further details about the patient but it says that there is little risk of it spreading in Denmark because the mosquito carrying the virus isn't found in the country.

Romit Jain from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm says there have been confirmed cases of imported Zika virus infections in Germany and Britain.