HEALTH

Puerto Rico reports its 1st Zika death as virus continues to spread

Puerto Rico has recorded its first Zika-related death amid an outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus, the island's health secretary said Friday.

Ana Rius said that a 70-year-old man infected with Zika died back in February from a drop in blood platelets.

El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico's largest newspaper, said the man died 24 hours after seeking medical assistance for symptoms similar to dengue. 

Officials said the unidentified man recovered from initial Zika symptoms, but then developed a condition in which antibodies that formed in reaction to the Zika infection started attacking blood platelet cells. He died after suffering internal bleeding.

The health secretary said three other cases of the blood condition, known as severe thrombocytopenia, have been reported in Puerto Rico, and that those patients recovered successfully.

Three similar Zika-related deaths, which are considered extremely rare, also have been recorded in Colombia.

The U.S. territory has seen more than 600 Zika cases, with 73 of those involving pregnant women. Zika can cause severe birth defects, such as babies being born with abnormally small heads. Rius said all 14 pregnant women infected with Zika who have given birth have healthy babies.

Sixteen people have been hospitalized and four are believed to have developed a temporary paralysis condition known as Guillain-Barre because of Zika.

Zika is the latest problem affecting Puerto Rico, which is facing $72 billion in debt and therefore finds itself ill-equipped to fight a disease spreading like wildfire on the tropical island.

President Barack Obama has requested $1.9 billion in emergency money to fight Zika virus, but Congress has not acted.

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