CARACAS - Three people have died in Venezuela from complications linked to Zika, President Nicolas Maduro said Thursday - the first fatalities reported in the country in connection with the mosquito-borne virus.
Speaking on national television, Maduro said there were 319 confirmed cases of the virus in the South American country, adding: "Unfortunately we have had three deaths from Zika nationwide." Maduro said 68 patients with complications "have been in intensive care," adding that the country had the necessary drugs to treat them.
Without providing any details, Maduro said that 5,221 suspected cases of Zika had been reported from November 5 until February 8.
Maduro's comments came as other South American countries are boosting efforts to contain the virus, which is thought to cause brain damage in babies.
The vast majority of Zika cases are mild but it has been linked to a rapid rise in the number of children born with microcephaly - abnormally small heads and brains - to mothers infected during pregnancy.
On January 28, Venezuelan Health Minister Luisana Melo said the country had recorded 4,700 suspected cases.
It was the first such toll from the government in the South American country of 30 million people, which is struggling with an economic and political crisis.
She added that Venezuela had also recorded 255 cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder that can cause paralysis or even death.
Doctors have warned that acute shortages of medicine and poor access to water - which has led locals to store water in open containers thereby creating breeding grounds for mosquitoes - threaten to exacerbate the outbreak of the virus.