At least 3,177 pregnant women in Colombia have been identified as having the Zika virus, the rapidly spreading mosquito-borne illness believed to be causing deformations in newborns in Brazil.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the official figures Saturday, saying that over 25,600 cases of the Zika virus have already been detected in total in the country, making it the second-worst affected region.
Santos' announcement comes after Colombia's National Health Institute revealed Friday that three patients had died after becoming infected with the virus and developing a rare neurological disorder.
Health professionals in Brazil have been studying the virus in order to understand the connection between Zika infections and microcephaly, a birth defect marked by abnormally small head sizes that can result in developmental problems. Over 4,000 cases of the birth defect have been found in the country.
However, so far there have been no recorded cases of Zika-linked microcephaly in Colombia, according to officials there. Officials in the country have still warned pregnant women to stay away from mosquito-borne areas.
The risks have also brought up an important debate in Colombia around whether women affected by the Zika virus should be allowed access to abortion procedures, which have been largely encouraged by women's rights activists.
Since 2006, abortion procedures have been authorized in Colombia but only under strict conditions, including in cases of rape, if the woman's life is in jeopardy, or in the case of a deformed fetus. According to the Bureau for the Life and Health of Women, the fetuses of women infected by the Zika virus should be considered “deformed,” thus making the procedure lawful, at least in Colombia.
Much remains unknown about Zika, for which there is no vaccine. An estimated 80 percent of those infected show no symptoms, and those that do have a mild illness, with a fever, rash and red eyes, reports Reuters.
However, the virus has caused a major health scare with the World Health Organization declaring it a world health emergency last week as it has been detected in over 33 countries. Health experts also found that it can be transmitted sexually and via blood transfusions, not only through certain types of mosquitoes.
WATCH: Colombia: More Than 20,000 Zika Cases Confirmed