Recent reports shed light on this year’s clustering of birth defects. This mysterious phenomenon was reported by NBC News in rural Washington State, while new cases climb. The defect is known as anencephaly, where the baby is born with missing parts of the brain and skull bone, and has been reported to be a fatal disease. Susie Ball of the Central Washington Genetics Program with Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital says she recorded around nine cases of anencephaly and spina bifida since the initial case reports, adding to the rise in reports of this particular birth defect.
Last summer, a report was released which alleged an investigation of 27 women during 2010 and 2013 was conducted in the same area. These women gave birth to babies that resulted in “neural tube defects.” 30-year veteran nurse, Sara Barron, said she has seen one or two devastating cases of anencephaly in her career, but saw two in a six-month period which prompted concern.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has refused to comment on on how many cases actually have occurred in 2013. Allison Ashley-Koch, professor at the Duke University Medical Center, says anytime there is a geographical cluster of a birth defect one must wonder if there is a common exposure. Andrea Jackman whose daughter suffers from spina bida said she had no idea there was this phenomenon in her area, and she was shocked no one informed her. “Why would you not want to tell people?” she asks.
Barron says with 30 deliveries in a month, and there being two cases within a six-month period in this area is nothing short of shocking, and a doctor she has spoken to claims there is a third case on the way. The state Health Department is continuing their investigation, but has so far claimed not to have discovered any causative agent. Epidemiologists found a prevalence rate of 8.4 cases per 10,000 live births, which is four times higher than the national average. Many people believe the investigation has not been thorough enough since no answers have been revealed. Mothers of this area especially would like to know why this birth defect is on the rise.
Women who have been questioned during this investigation find it extremely troubling says the head investigator, Mandy Stahre. Not only are they being asked questions that seem irrelevant to them, they also have to come to the decision on whether to abort the fetus or to give birth to the baby who is sure to die soon afterward. Stahre worries if her questions to these mothers would add to the trauma. The “invasiveness,” she claims, must be be assessed.
Jackman says this view of worry is condescending, as she believes most mothers would want to know what is going on. She also says she would do anything to help prevent another mother from giving birth to a child with these birth defects. Jackman believes the state department should have made these phone call interviews long ago, since memories and habits tend to fade overtime, and the women will eventually forget what might be pertinent to the investigation.
Dr. Beate Ritz, vice chair of the epidemiology department at UCLA, says the medical records in this investigation are not reliable sources of information, which are the main sources of the investigation into birth defects. Ritz says one doctor can report that a woman smokes while the next does not; state departments usually do not have the funding for an adequate investigation. The CDC claims that there is “no secret” of why birth defects are on the rise; it is just a sad coincidence.
By Lindsey Alexander