Midwives are being advised to raise awareness about the outbreak of the Zika virus and its potential effect on expectant mothers.
The Royal College of Midwives said pregnant women should be encouraged to “carefully consider” whether to travel to the Americas – where the outbreak is spreading – and those who are returning should be advised to contact their midwife, obstetrician or GP.
A recent update by Public Health England noted that eight new countries, including Barbados, Haiti and Puerto Rico, had reported cases since December.
It is in addition to the 10 countries that have had outbreaks since May 2015, such as Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.
The outbreak of Zika in Brazil has coincided with an unusual increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly, a neurological disorder in which the brain grows to an abnormally small size.
Up to 9 January, the Brazilian Ministry of Health reported 3,530 cases of microcephaly including 46 deaths across the country.
This is compared to the expected 150 to 200 cases every year, which were reported between 2010 and 2014.
The increase in microcephaly cases started within nine months of the emergence of the Zika virus in northern Brazil.
The Ministry of Health of Brazil has suggested this increase is associated with the ongoing Zika virus outbreak.
“There is increasing evidence to support this hypothesis but investigations to establish whether there is a causal relationship continues,” said Public Health England in its briefing note.
“The virus has now been demonstrated to cross the placental barrier and has been detected in blood and tissues of seven affected foetus/infants. The mothers of six of these cases presented with symptoms consistent with zika virus during pregnancy,” it added.