No Known Cause for Mysterious Birth Defect Cluster in Washington State

birth_defects_washingtonThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that investigators have found no common cause in a high rate of cases of a fatal birth defect in central Washington state.

The investigation began last year when a local hospital informed the state health department of an unusually high number of babies born with anencephaly, a rare birth defect in which parts of the baby’s brain and skull are missing, LiveScience reports. Twenty-three women in a three-county area gave birth to babies with anencephaly between January 2010 and January 2013, a rate more than four times the national average of one or two cases in every 10,000 births.

The researchers compared the 23 women, along with four other women whose babies had similar birth defects, with a control group of 108 women from the same counties whose babies were born without birth defects. The researchers examined medical records for anencephaly risk factors, which include family history, pre-pregnancy weight, occupation, smoking and alcohol use, medication use, drinking water source, and health during the pregnancy, according to LiveScience.

The researchers did not find any significant differences between the two groups of women, LiveScience reports. A baby with anencephaly is usually born blind, deaf, and unconscious. Most babies with anencephaly are stillborn or die within hours of birth. Anencephaly occurs during the third and fourth weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.

According to LiveScience, the essential nutrient folic acid (vitamin B9) reduces the risk of brain and spine defects. Therefore the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force  recommends that women of childbearing age consume 400 to 1,000 micrograms of folic acid every day, especially if they plan to become pregnant. Good sources of the nutrient include spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, lettuce, beans, peas, lentils, and egg yolks.





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