How Many Zika Cases Are There In Venezuela: 4,000 Or 400,000? : Goats and Soda It depends on whom you ask. But Venezuela could be the next ground zero for Zika. And government information is in short supply. So are doctors, medicines and even mosquito repellent.

How Many Zika Cases Are There In Venezuela: 4,000 Or 400,000?

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The Zika epidemic may have gotten its start in Brazil. That country is still the epicenter of the outbreak. But it has also emerged in Venezuela in a big way. Some doctors' groups are warning the situation there could be almost as bad as Brazil. NPR's Nurith Aizenman has the story.

NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: Zika may have been circulating in Venezuela since at least this summer, but it wasn't until late November that the government confirmed the disease was present. And for a long time after that, officials declined to say how many people were infected. Doctor Jose Oletta is a former minister of health of Venezuela. And he says this delay was unconscionable.

JOSE OLETTA: (Foreign language spoken).

AIZENMAN: He says, "It took seven weeks. Do you hear me? Seven weeks for the current minister of health to give out the first statistics. Just as troubling," says Doctor Oletta, "are the numbers the government has now released." Last Friday, officials announced there are about 4,700 potential cases of Zika in the country. Generally, Zika cases are mild, but Oletta is part of an independent association of epidemiologists in Venezuela. And their estimate, based on national health data they've been able to get hold of, is that there are actually more than 400,000 potential Zika cases. That's nearly 100 times the government's figure.

OLETTA: (Foreign language spoken).

AIZENMAN: "It's like there are two parallel realities," he says. "It's totally absurd. It's just not possible to have this set-up in a civilized society." Oletta notes his group's estimate only covers people who showed symptoms of infection. Add in the symptom-free cases, and he says we could be talking about 1,000,000 infections to date. That's worrisome because Zika has been linked to serious complications. Pregnant women who get the disease may give birth to babies with abnormally small heads and brain damage. So far, no such cases have been reported in Venezuela, but officials said there are as many as 255 patients with another problem possibly linked to Zika, Guillaume-Barre syndrome, a type of paralysis that can be life-threatening without expensive treatment. And all this comes as Venezuela is in the grips of a financial crisis that's created shortages of everything from painkillers to mosquito repellent.

OLETTA: (Foreign language spoken).

AIZENMAN: Oletta says, "it's the perfect storm for a lot of difficulty, a lot of suffering and an increased chance of death." Nurith Aizenman, NPR News.

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