The Zika virus has already been linked to a wave of birth defects in Brazil.  But now doctors in two neighboring Latin American countries suspect the mosquito-born disease in a growing number of patients suffering a syndrome that has lead to paralysis and death.

Before Zika came to Colombia's north lowlands, the area known for its banana plantations, the town of Turbo might see one case of Guillain-Barre syndrome once a year.  But within the past six weeks Turbo has logged five cases, and all of them have been severe.  The first case was a 41-year old woman named Elena Uribe:  She called in sick to work in mid-January with the symptoms of Zika - joint pain and rashes.  Soon, her legs gave out from beneath her as she tried to walk.  Family members carried her to the ER, where an internist suspected Guillain-Barre - but wasn't sure.  Within days, her condition worsened:  Elena lost control of her facial muscles and had difficulty breathing.  Doctors moved her to a bigger hospital , but she died on 2 February.

Now, three patients are dead, one is fighting for his life in an intensive care unit, and a 10-year old year hasn't been able to move her legs in a week.  Guillain-Barre is believed to be triggered by infections, and each of the cases in Turbo began with Zika.  Medical facilities are overloaded with people showing symptoms of Zika.  Making matters worse, Turbo is a poor town with open sewers and plenty of breeding places for the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries Zika and a host of other dangerous viral nasties.  Overall, Colombia has 30,000 to 37,000 cases of Zika, 5,000 of then reported just in the last week.

The situation across the border in Venezuela might be even worse, and doctors are angrily accusing the Venezuelan government of hiding the truth about Zika and Guillain-Barre statistics.  Caracas says Venezuela has had 5,000 cases of Zika - but doctors complaining to the BBC claimed that the real number could be as high as 400,000 to 500,000 cases.  The BBC took undercover video showing ward after ward in a Caracas hospital filled with patients with Guillain-Barre.