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CDC Attempts to Determine the Cause of Cluster of Birth Defects in Washington

Katie Chapman3 years ago

Investigators are continuing their efforts to try and figure out what is causing a number of neural tube defects in Washington.

CDC Investigates Cluster of Birth Defects in Washington

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 27 babies were born with neural tube defects in September 2013–23 with anencephaly, three with spina bifida, and one with encephalocele over a three-year period in a three- county area.

The defects caused the rate of anencephaly to increase four times the national estimate of 2.1 per 10,000 births at 8.4; however, the rate of spina bifida was lower than the national estimate of 3.5 per 10,000 live births at a rate of 1.3 per 10,000 live births.

According to a CDC spokesman, the Washington health department is continuing to monitor cases and collect information, although no data is being reported to the CDC at this time.

Data collection is being analyzed and is expected to be completed sometime this spring.

Finding the Cause is not an Easy Task

“Right now we don’t understand all the environmental and genetic causes of these birth defects. So, we may think it is only a chance occurrence because we don’t know what we should be looking for.” – Allison Ashley-Koch, PhD, of Duke University Medical Center as published by Medpage Today

Though there seems to be some dispute among health care experts over the significance of the cluster of birth defects, general consensus is that the cause, whatever it may be will be difficult if not impossible to pinpoint.

While some, like Shawn McCandless, MD, of Cleveland’s UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, remain skeptical that the cluster of defects is nothing more than a statistical blip and mere coincidence, others contend it only seems that way because investigators are unsure what they are looking for.

Jennifer Hoskovec, MS, CGC, director of prenatal genetic counseling services at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston says it is hard to determine the cause of a particular case because neural tube defects are usually caused by multiple factors. These can include both environmental and genetic that each have a relatively small effect.

Allison Ashely-Koch, PhD, of Duke University Medical Center says the greatest challenge investigators are facing is trying to work backwards to find a common link which could have contributed to a cluster. These could include anything from foods to contaminated water to a building exposure.

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