Mystery over why so many babies are born with brain defect that leaves them blind, deaf and unable to feel pain in Washington state
- Three Washington counties have reported an unusually high rate of anencephaly
- Anencephalic babies are born without a large portion of the brain, skull and scalp
- The prognosis for babies born with anencephaly is death
- Authorities have not been able to establish a common cause for the high rate of the defect
By Alex Greig Daily Mail PUBLISHED:18 July 2013
Washington state authorities are baffled after an investigation into the spike in a rare birth defect in several neighboring counties has failed to uncover a common cause.
The counties of Yakima, Benton and Franklin all reported an unusually high rate of anencephalic pregnancies between January 2010 and January 2013.
The Department of Health in conjunction with local health authorities and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention examined records to determine risk factors in the cases of anencaphaly but has not found a common cause.
Anencephaly occurs between the third and fourth weeks of pregnancy. During that time, the neural tube is supposed to close and fold over to form the brain and spinal cord of the fetus.
This process fails to occur in anencephalic pregnancies, resulting in the absence of a large portion of the brain, skull and scalp.
Babies born with anencephaly are usually blind, deaf, unconcious and unable to feel pain. They are usually stillborn but in rare cases they may survive longer.
The rate of anencephaly is one or two per 10,000 births. The rate in the Washington state counties is eight per 10,000 births.
It’s a significant jump for such a rare condition and prompted the Department of Health study.
According to the Department, anencephaly and a related spinal cord disorder, spina bifida, can be caused by a lack of the B-vitamin folic acid in the mother’s diet.
Other factors include certain medications, diabetes, pre-pregnancy obesity, or previously having a child with a neural tube defect.
In Washington, health investigators looked at family history, pre-pregnancy weight, health risk behaviors such as supplemental folic acid and medication use, and whether the mother’s residence received drinking water from a public or private source.
They found no common exposures, conditions or causes among the cases of anencephaly, and no significant differences between healthy pregnancies and anencephalic births.
Health Department officials have said the higher rate of anencephaly could be pure coincidence.
The Department will continue to monitor births in the region throughout 2013 to see if the rate of anencephaly remains raised, and whether any further causes can be identified.
‘The interesting thing with this study is that they looked at different factors, and women’s histories, and obesity, and at medical history and couldn’t find anything that stood out,’ she said.
‘Could it be a fluke? We don’t know. It could take time to uncover some sort of [unusual] exposure.’