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  • Demonstrators raise awareness of the need to prevent the spread of the Zika virus during a street parade in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Jan. 23, 2016.

    Demonstrators raise awareness of the need to prevent the spread of the Zika virus during a street parade in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Jan. 23, 2016. | Photo: Xinhua

El Salvador has recorded more than 7,000 cases of the Zika virus since December and 13 Zika-infected pregnant women have had babies without defects.

Amid widespread alarm raised by the Zika virus rapidly spreading across Latin America and the Caribbean, including among potential travelers, El Salvador announced a new plan Monday that aims to protect tourists from the disease.

The new measures include keeping a closer eye on health and sanitation conditions, especially in the most popular tourist areas, the Salvadoran Ministry of Tourism said.

Authorities will put increased pressure on tourist establishments to live up to sanitation and safety guidelines in order to keep well-traveled areas free of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits the Zika virus.

Hotels and other tourist establishments will be certified if they meet authorities’ hygiene and Zika-control standards.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is one of the most difficult varieties of mosquito to fight because it breeds in small amounts of stagnant water that can collect around homes and mundane spaces. Eliminating stagnant water that could serve as mosquito-breeding grounds, especially in residential and highly-visited places, is key to combatting the spread of the virus.

El Salvador’s new plan comes after a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll found that the Zika virus could be discouraging U.S. citizens from traveling to Latin America, while nearly two thirds of people in the U.S. are now aware of the disease.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has warned all pregnant women to avoid traveling to South America, Central America and the Caribbean, saying that is where the virus is spreading more quickly than anywhere else.

RELATED: 7 Facts You May Want to Know About the Zika Virus

Cases of the Zika virus have been detected in 28 countries in the Americas and five other countries around the globe, including Germany, China and Russia, while the epicenter of the outbreak remains in Brazil. Colombia is the second worst-affected by the outbreak.

While the Zika virus, which causes fever, joint pain, skin rashes, and other symptoms, is usually not considered life threatening, researchers suspect the disease is linked to the birth defect known as microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development. They also believe it is linked to a rise in Latin America of the rare neurological disorder known as Guillain-Barre syndrome, or GBS, according to the World Health Organization.

The CDC presented the “strongest evidence to date” last week linking the Zika virus to microcephaly based on four cases in Brazil, two miscarried fetuses and two babies born with microcephaly who died within a day, that showed DNA of the Zika virus in the brain tissue.

GALLERY: Zika Virus Spreads Across Latin America

But Argentine experts also recently claimed that a Monsanto-produced mosquito-combating larvicide, not the Zika virus, is responsible for causing the rise in microcephaly in Brazil, prompting the country's state of Rio Grande do Sul to suspend the use of the larvicide pyriproxyfen as a precaution.

In El Salvador, where authorities are trying to preserve tourism income despite the spread of the Zika virus, 13 mothers infected with the Zika virus have given birth to babies who did not exhibit symptoms of microcephaly, according to local authorities.

Salvadoran authorities report that 159 pregnant women have been infected with Zika since the virus was first detected in the country where abortions and even at times spontaneous miscarriages are fiercely criminalized.

The Ministry of Health reports that an estimated 7,138 cases of Zika were detected in El Salvador between December and January.

The World Health Organization recently declared the Zika virus a global health emergency.

WATCH: Caribbean Tackles Impacts of Zika Virus


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