NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/CBS News) — Five New York state residents have tested positive for the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects.

The New York State Department of Health reported that two Zika patients have been confirmed in New York City, one in Orange County, one in Nassau County, and one in upstate Monroe County.

All of them contracted the virus abroad.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said pregnant women, or those who may become pregnant, should try to avoid travel to 24 countries and territories, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean, where Zika virus has been spreading.

Two major airlines have offered refunds for passengers worried about visiting the affected areas. United Airlines said customers can get refunds or change their flight without a fee, while American Airlines is offering refunds to pregnant women.

Zika virus symptoms are relatively mild in most people, but the disease has been linked to a severe birth defect called microcephaly, in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and often brain damage, CBS News reported. A small but worrisome number of cases in Brazil and French Polynesia have also been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome in adult patients, a rare autoimmune condition which can result in paralysis.

Health officials in Brazil report that about 4,000 infants have been born with microcephaly since the virus began spreading there last spring.

Health officials in some areas, including El Salvador, Brazil and parts of Panama, are urging women to postpone pregnancy to avoid the potential risk.

The CDC travel alert names the following countries and territories where pregnant women in any trimester should consider staying away, and all visitors should take care to protect against mosquitoes, CBS News reported:

• In Latin America: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela.
• In the Caribbean: Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, St. Martin, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands.
• Cape Verde, off the coast of western Africa.
• Samoa in the South Pacific.

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