Three people have died in Colombia after contracting the Zika virus, which is spreading across South America and has emerged in Europe and the US. It is believed to be the first time health officials have directly blamed the mosquito-borne disease for causing fatalities.
Brazil, where the virus is most prevalent, said Zika had been detected in urine and saliva, and officials there and in the US warned even kissing could potentially spread the disease.
Scientists pointed out there was no proof the virus could be transmitted through the fluids, but said people should take precautions, especially expectant mothers. Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff has urged pregnant women not to kiss strangers as carnival season gets under way.
The victims in Colombia died of complications after being infected with Zika and then developing a rare neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome.
The condition sees the immune system attack the nervous system, causing weakness and sometimes paralysis or even death, but most Guillain-Barre patients recover.
Cases of the disorder have increased along with the spread of Zika, which is being blamed for causing brain defects in thousands of babies.
Many have been born with microcephaly, or abnormally small heads and brains, and the UN has urged increased access to abortion because of fears of severe birth defects.