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By Jeb Blount RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - A link between a form of fetal brain damage and the mosquito-born zica virus has been confirmed by Brazilian health authorities on Saturday. The link between zica, first medically identified as a new disease half a century ago, and birth defects has never been made. The virus, endemic in parts Africa, South America, Southeast Asia and some Pacific Islands, has until now been blamed for symptoms such as fever, mild headache, skin rashes, joint pain and conjunctivitis, or "red eye." Initial analysis shows that the virus can be passed to a fetus and that the fetus is at greatest risk from the virus during the first three months of pregnancy, the statements said.
Pope Francis was due on Sunday to the begin the final leg of his first African trip in Central African Republic where he will deliver a message of reconciliation and peace to a nation racked by years of violence between Muslims and Christians. The capital Bangui has seen a surge in clashes that have left at least 100 people dead since late September, according to Human Rights Watch, and security has been ramped up ahead of the papal visit. France, which has around 900 soldiers deployed in Central African Republic, warned the Vatican earlier this month that the visit could be risky, and the pope's exact itinerary has remained uncertain even in the final days before his arrival.