Colombian health officials have suggested there is a connection between the Zika virus, a rare nerve disorder and the deaths of three Colombians, as the disease continues to spread rapidly throughout the Americas.
The announcement, made on Friday, is the first time government health officials have directly blamed the mosquito-borne virus for causing deaths.
Colombian Health Minister, Alejandro Gaviria, said: "There is a causal connection between Zika, Guillain-Barre and the death of three Colombians, one in San Andres and another two in Turbo, Antioquia."
The three patients died last week after being treated at a clinic in Medellin, said the minister, Reuters reports.
The head of Colombia’s National Heath Institute, Martha Lucia Ospina, said: “We have confirmed and attributed three deaths to Zika."
The Zika virus - in pictures
The Zika virus - in pictures
A three-month-old, who has microcephaly, in Recife, Brazil. A rise in microcephaly cases is thought to have been caused by the spread of the Zika virus in affected countries
A mother holds her baby who has microcephaly
A five-month-old baby, who has microcephaly, in Recife, Brazil
A pediatric infectologist examines a two-month-old baby, who has microcephaly, in Recife, Brazil
A baby affected with microcephaly
“In this case, the three deaths were preceded by Guillain-Barre syndrome.”
Guillain-Barre is a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system. It is not usually fatal but can cause paralysis and muscle weakness.
Cases of the syndrome have increased in tandem with the Zika outbreak, sparking suspicions it is a complication of the virus, also blamed for causing microcephaly or brain damage in babies born to infected mothers.
Scientists, however, have not yet proved Zika causes either condition.
Ms Ospina said a further six deaths were being investigated for possible links to Zika, the BBC reports.
“Other cases [of deaths linked to Zika] are going to emerge,” she said. “The world is realising that Zika can be deadly. The mortality rate is not high, but it can be deadly.”
Experts from the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) in the US are urgently investigating its link with Zika alongside officials in Brazil.
It was first noticed in French Polynesia during the outbreak of Zika which swept the islands in 2013.
Other governments in the region have also drawn connections between the virus and Guillain-Barre.
Venezuelan authorities said last week there are around 255 cases of Guillain-Barre that are potentially linked to Zika. In Brazil, doctors have reported rises in cases of Guillain-Barre.
Battling the zika virus - in pictures
Battling the zika virus - in pictures
A worker of the Salvadorean Ministry of Health fumigates a house in Soyapango, 6 kilometers from San Salvador, El Salvador. Salvadorean authorities have began a three days campaign of fumigation to reduce the presence of the mosquito that transmit the Zika virus.
A Health Ministry employee fumigates a home against the Aedes aegypti mosquito to prevent the spread of the Zika virus in Soyapango, six km east of San Salvador. Health authorities have issued a national alert against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, because of the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly and Guillain-BarrÈ Syndrome in foetuses.
AFP PHOTO/Marvin RECINOSMarvin RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images
A pediatric infectologist examines a two-months-old baby, who has microcephaly, on 26 January 2016 in Recife, Brazil.
A woman walks through the fumes as Health Ministry employee fumigate against the Aedes aegypti mosquito to prevent the spread of the Zika virus in Soyapango.
Marvin RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images
A health ministry employee sprays to eliminate breeding sites of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which transmits diseases such as the dengue, chicunguna and Zica viruses, in a Tegucigalpa cemetery on January 21, 2016. The medical school at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) recommended that women in the country avoid getting pregnant for the time being due to the presence of the Zika virus. If a pregnant woman is infected by the virus, the baby could be born with microcephaly.
AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA
A man walks away from his home with his son as health workers fumigates the Altos del Cerro neighbourhood as part of preventive measures against the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases in Soyapango, El Salvador
A three-months-old, who has microcephaly, in Recife, Brazil.
A pregnant woman waits to be attended at the Maternal and Children's Hospital in Tegucigalpa. The medical school at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) recommended that women in the country avoid getting pregnant for the time being due to the presence of the Zika virus. If a pregnant woman is infected by the virus, the baby could be born with microcephaly.
ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
Army soldiers apply insect repellent as they prepare for a clean up operation against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is a vector for transmitting the Zika virus in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
AP Photo/Andre Penner
Workers disinfect the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro to fight the spread of the Zika virus
Dr. Vanessa Van Der Linden, the neuro-pediatrician who first recognized the microcephaly crisis in Brazil, measures the head of a 2-month-old baby with microcephaly in Recife
Mother Mylene Helena Ferreira cares for her son David Henrique Ferreira, 5 months, who has microcephaly, on January 25, 2016 in Recife, Brazil. In the last four months, authorities have recorded close to 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants
U.S. women who are pregnant from traveling to many South American countries
In the last four months, authorities have recorded close to 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants.
Dr. Vanessa Van Der Linden, the neuro-pediatrician who first recognized the microcephaly crisis in Brazil, examines a two-month-old baby with microcephaly on January 27, 2016 in Recife, Brazil
Brazil is one of the countries in South America where the Zika virus has taken hold
Health workers fumigating to combat Zika virus in Lima, Peru. The US have already issued a warning urging pregnant women to avoid travel to Latin American countries
Two-month-old Jose Wesley, born with microcephaly in Brazil, is nursed by his brother
Earlier this month Brazilian scientists said they had detected active samples of Zika in urine and saliva for the first time.
However, scientists have said there is no proof the virus can transmitted through those fluids.
The governor of Puerto Rico has declared a public health emergency over Zika. The US territory has 22 confirmed cases.