HAVANA Cuba's Health Ministry on Tuesday reported the first case of Zika contracted in the country, in a 21-year-old woman living in central Havana and who had not been overseas.
Cuba's four previous cases of Zika all involved people who had contracted the virus while abroad.
Cuba reported its first case of Zika on March 2, making it one of the last countries in the Americas to encounter the virus. All four of the previous cases occurred in people who contracted Zika in Venezuela.
The Cuban woman first reported symptoms on March 7 and was hospitalized two days later, the Health Ministry said in a statement read on state television. The woman was diagnosed on Monday and remains in the hospital, without symptoms, the statement said.
Zika, which is carried by mosquitoes that transmit the virus to humans, has been linked to thousands of birth defects in Brazil that is spreading through Latin America and the Caribbean.
The World Health Organization declared the Zika outbreak an international health emergency on Feb. 1, citing a "strongly suspected" relationship between Zika infection in pregnancy and microcephaly, a birth defect marked by abnormally small head size that can result in developmental problems.
However, much remains unknown about Zika, including whether the virus actually causes microcephaly in babies.
Brazil said it has confirmed more than 740 cases of microcephaly, and considers most of them to be related to Zika infections in the mothers. Brazil is investigating more than 4,200 additional suspected cases of microcephaly.
More than a dozen cases of sexual transmission in the United States and France, and one case of suspected transmission through a blood transfusion in Brazil, raise questions about other ways that Zika may spread.
There is no vaccine or treatment.
The Cuban government, which has fumigated neighborhoods and homes for decades to contain dengue, another mosquito-borne illness, put doctors on alert for the virus weeks ago and ramped up mosquito eradication efforts in neighborhoods in expectation of Zika's inevitable arrival.
President Raul Castro on Feb. 22 ordered 9,000 active-duty officers and reserves plus 200 police officers to join the prevention effort and asked all Cubans to clean up potential environments for the Aedes genus of mosquitoes.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Sandra Maler and Leslie Adler)