CASTRIES, St. Lucia, (Reuters) - A man and a woman in the Caribbean country of St. Lucia have locally contracted the Zika virus, which has been linked to hundreds of cases of a rare birth defect in Brazil, the first infections by the mosquito-borne virus in the island nation, its health ministry said on Thursday.
The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has confirmed the cases, the Ministry of Health said at a news conference, noting that the individuals had no history of recent travel to a Zika affected country.
“We have increased our surveillance within our health system to ensure the timely diagnosis,” said Sharon Belmar George, senior medical officer at the ministry. “There are so far two cases of the Zika virus disease on the island.”
The Zika outbreak is affecting large parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, with Brazil the hardest hit so far.
Tourism-dependent Caribbean countries are concerned that the virus will impact their economies. Hotels and travel companies operating there have reported moderate cancellations because of Zika, and some have offered discounts or agreed to allow travelers to defer trips.
Zika has not been proven to cause the birth defect microcephaly, but there is growing evidence that suggests a link. The condition is defined by unusually small heads that could result in developmental problems.
Brazil said it has confirmed more than 900 cases of microcephaly, and considers most of them to be related to Zika infections in the mothers.
Reporting by Sarah Peter; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Richard Chang