Birth defect cluster has experts baffled


WASHINGTON, February 18, 2014 —A cluster of severe birth defects are occurring in rural Washington state that are leaving health professionals and parents with no answers.

A three county area near Yakima, Washington are having an abnormally high number of babies born with anencephaly, a condition where a baby does not develop a portion of their skull, brain or scalp during gestation.

There is no treatment for this condition and the result for most of these babies is death within a few hours or days.

NBC News reports that Washington state health department has recorded anencephaly births in this small area to be that of four times the national average. This area also is seeing surprisingly high numbers of babies being born with the related defect spina bifida, where the neural tube which forms the spine and brain does not close properly.

Although survival rates of spina bifida children are much higher than babies born with anencephaly, they do often suffer a life time of physical and neurological complications.

Often time’s small clusters of birth defects end up being simply a tragic coincidence, but as the reported cases continue to rise, residents of the community are hoping for some answers.

The high rates of defects were brought to the attention of health officials by a veteran nurse who had only seen a few of these complications in all of her years of nursing, until recently.

The CDC is investigating the cases of all families involved and so far has found no commonality to explain the birth defects.

This area of Washington is an agricultural area and prior research has shown a link between anencephaly and pesticides although this has not been found to be the cause in these cases at this point.

Parents of the affected children do not understand why they were not notified of the cluster when it was first noticed in 2011. Many of them knew nothing of the high birth defect rate in their area until after their children were born and investigators came to speak to them.

The Center for Disease Control see the lack of a conclusive cause as justification to not have released the concern as they lean toward the cases being unrelated. Releasing the information before any facts were known, they believe, would have cause unnecessary panic.

In the meantime, babies in the region are continuing to be born with these heart breaking defects and the Center for Disease Control are continuing to investigate.

The CDC is expected to release a report on their findings later this year.

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