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Puerto Rico might be hiding the effects of Zika to save its tourism industry

Puerto Rico has reported just 16 cases of births affected by the Zika virus, Stat reports — and that has U.S. officials suspicious. The virus, which swept across the Americas and other tropical regions last year, is known to cause congenital defects in babies if the mother contracts it while pregnant.

Stat notes that more than 3,300 pregnant women in Puerto Rico are known to have contracted the mosquito-borne illness, making the mere 16 reported cases of Zika-affected births all the more unlikely. A former U.S. health official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, speculated to Stat that the territorial government is obfuscating the severity of Zika to save its tourism industry, which is a huge source of revenue for the cash-strapped island.

"Puerto Rico's not escaping this. They're just hiding," the official said. "They're kind of in denial about what the problem is. And in six months, a year, two years from now, there will be all these babies who aren't learning and all these problems that will come to light."

By contrast, there have been 63 reported Zika-affected births across the 50 U.S. states plus Washington, D.C., among just 1,300 pregnant women known to have the virus. Read more about Puerto Rico's improbably low Zika numbers at Stat.