New microcephaly cases in Honduras raise alarm bells

Choluteca (Honduras) (AFP) - Six Honduran women have delivered babies with the birth defect microcephaly in just three days, raising fresh concerns about the spread of the Zika virus, doctors said on Saturday.

All six cases of the Zika-linked birth defect were registered at the same hospital in Choluteca, a city just south of the capital Tegucigalpa that has been particularly hard-hit by the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which can also spread through sexual contact.

"These six cases have alarmed us and we think they are connected to Zika," epidemiologist Gustavo Avila said. "Every year a child is born with microcephaly, but six over the course of three days is alarming."

Zika infections -- which cause flu-like symptoms and a rash -- have been reported in dozens of countries throughout the Caribbean and Latin America.

However, the virus poses a particular danger to pregnant women, who if infected face a higher risk of bearing infants with microcephaly.

The birth defect causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads.

Honduras has detected 27,869 cases of Zika this year, according to Health Minister Yolani Batres.

The rise in infants born with microcephaly, which causes irreversible malformations, has been most acute in Brazil.

Honduran health officials have mobilized to destroy mosquito breeding sites with the support of some 2,000 military troops and local institutions.