Pregnant women told to avoid countries with Zika outbreaks

(AP) -- U.S. health officials say pregnant women should avoid traveling to Latin American and Caribbean countries with outbreaks of a tropical illness linked to birth defects.

The illness is caused by the Zika virus. It is spread through mosquito bites and causes only a mild illness in most people. But there's been mounting evidence linking the virus to a surge of a rare birth defect in Brazil.

The virus is native to tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. But infections have exploded recently in Latin America and the Caribbean.

On Friday, U.S. health officials said pregnant women should consider postponing trips to 14 places: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Suriname and Venezuela.