Zika fears over baseball games in Puerto Rico

Both dengue and Zika are caused by parasites carried by a different kind of mosquito to the malaria-bearing one, but which is also attracted by human smell (AFP Photo/Luis Robayo)

New York (AFP) - The fate of two Major League Baseball games due to take place in Puerto Rico later this month hung in the balance amid fears over the Zika virus.

The Major League Baseball Players Association said it was holding ongoing discussions with league chiefs over a pair of matches between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Miami Marlins in San Juan on May 30-31.

"The health and safety of our members and their families are our primary concerns, and we have a responsibility to gather as much information as possible from the top scientific experts in the field," the MLBPA said in the statement.

The statement followed a report on Yahoo Sports that said the games were on the brink of being cancelled following concerns raised by both teams.

The report said players from the Pirates and the Marlins had banded together to request the games be moved to Miami.

The possibility of the matches being moved from Puerto Rico comes just days after the first Zika-related death was reported on the island on Friday.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said a 70-year-old man died of complications from severe thrombocytopenia, a poor clotting condition related to a low number of platelets in the blood.

"Although Zika virus-associated deaths are rare, the first identified death in Puerto Rico highlights the possibility of severe cases, as well as the need for continued outreach to raise health care providers' awareness of complications that might lead to severe disease or death," the CDC said at the time.

The CDC has warned of a potential explosion of Zika cases in Puerto Rico, possibly reaching into the hundreds of thousands.

The virus is known to cause the brain defect microcephaly, and is blamed for a recent surge in cases of malformed babies in Brazil.

The health authorities urged people in Puerto Rico to "continue to employ mosquito bite avoidance behaviors, including using mosquito repellents, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, and ensuring homes are properly enclosed."

Since Zika is also known to be transmitted by sexual contact, partners of pregnant women are being urged to use condoms or avoid sex until the baby is born.

US authorities have issued travel notices due to Zika for 43 countries and territories, mainly in the Caribbean, central and south America.

Puerto Rico reported its first Zika case -- known as the index patient -- in November.

The CDC investigated a total of 6,157 suspected Zika cases in Puerto Rico between November 1, 2015 and April 14, 2016.

The concerns over Zika come as Brazil attempts to reassure athletes heading to Rio de Janeiro in August for the Olympics.

The World Health Organization has declared an international health emergency over the apparent link between Zika and microcephaly.