* Microcephaly still far lower than in Brazil
* Experts say women may have delayed pregnancies
By Julie Steenhuysen
CHICAGO, Dec 9 Cases of microcephaly in Colombia
were four times higher this year than last, an increase that
coincides with a widespread outbreak of Zika virus in the
country, a report released on Friday said.
At its peak in July, microcephaly cases in Colombia were
nine times higher than in the same month in 2015, according to
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's weekly
report on death and disease.
Overall, there were about 9.6 cases of microcephaly per
10,000 live births in Colombia, where the virus infected as many
as 20,000 pregnant women since the start of the outbreak there
in October 2015.
The numbers reflect a sharp increase in rates of the rare
birth defect, but the number of cases was still far lower than
those in Brazil, where Zika first arrived in May 2015. As of
December 3, Brazil has confirmed 2,228 cases of microcephaly
linked with Zika, and there are 3,173 cases still under
Those numbers are far higher than the 432 cases of babies
born in Colombia with microcephaly in 2016, and another 44 that
occurred among fetuses that did not survive the pregnancy,
according to the report by researchers at the CDC and the
Colombian health department.
The study's authors said the difference could have resulted
from a number of factors, including the fact that women in
Colombia had early warning about the risk of microcephaly.
In February, the Colombian Ministry of Health advised women
to consider delaying pregnancy for six months, which may have
played a role. During the study period, the number of live
births fell by about 18,000 from 2015 to 2016.
Several experts also have suggested that women in Colombia
took advantage of more permissive abortion laws, an option that
was not available to women in Brazil, where abortion is banned
in most instances.
(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Dan Grebler)