SANTIAGO Chile health authorities on Tuesday identified the first three cases of Zika virus on the mainland but said the people were infected while traveling abroad and did not present a risk to the general population.
A 28-year-old man was infected while traveling in Colombia, a 28-year-old man contracted the virus in Venezuela and a 35-year-old man got the virus in Brazil.
The health ministry said there is no danger of the virus spreading on mainland Chile. Zika is an infection linked to thousands of birth defects in Brazil that is spreading through Latin America and the Caribbean by mosquitoes.
"Despite the confirmation of these cases, this is not a health risk for the population, since continental Chile does not have the mosquito that transmits the disease," acting Health Minister Gisela Alarcon told reporters on Tuesday.
Chile's Easter Island, some 3,700 km (2,300 miles) from the mainland, does have the mosquito that carries the disease and had 173 Zika cases in 2014. All the Zika cases on Easter Island were "mild" and no pregnant women presented any complications due to the infection, Chilean health authorities said.
The World Health Organization has said the virus, linked to severe birth defects in Brazil, has been spreading rapidly in the Americas and could infect 4 million people. It said it had launched a global response unit to fight the mosquito-borne virus, which is spreading rapidly in Latin America.
Africa and Asia are also seen as being vulnerable.
(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker)