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Fatal birth defect stalks 3 Central Wash. counties via The Seattle Times

As a mysterious cluster of rare birth defects grows in Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties, state health officials are conducting first interviews with women who lost babies to the devastating disorder known as anencephaly.

Nearly three years after nurse Sara Barron first sounded the alarm about a spike in rare birth defects in Central Washington, state health officials have begun interviewing area women who lost babies to the devastating condition known as anencephaly.

Since Jan. 1, investigators have talked to 10 mothers who have carried babies with anencephaly, which causes infants to be delivered missing parts of the brain and skull.

Eventually, officials plan to speak to more of the nearly 40 women included so far in the mysterious cluster of birth defects, with rates at least five times higher than the national average.

So far the problem has stumped local, regional and national experts, who say they can find no cause for the increase.

Now, they’re hoping one-on-one conversations will yield crucial information about living and working conditions, health habits, environmental risks and other factors that could be responsible.

[…]

Anencephaly is a rare birth defect caused when the neural tube, which forms the brain and spinal cord, fails to close properly during early pregnancy, causing fatal deformities in the brain and skull. Many such pregnancies end in abortion or miscarriage, but some are carried to term, with the babies either stillborn or surviving for hours or, at most, days.

From January 2010 to October 2014, 38 cases were reported in Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties. As of 2013, the latest year of full records, that translated to a rate of about 11.1 cases for every 10,000 live births — more than five times the national rate of 2.1 cases per 10,000.

And the problem might date back further. A Department of Health analysis of state vital statistics data between 2003 and 2013 found rates of anencephaly and spina bifida, another neural tube defect, at five cases per 10,000 in the three-county region, compared to 2.4 cases per 10,000 for Washington state as a whole.

[…]

Theories about potential causes of the Washington state anencephaly cluster abound, from the effects of agricultural pesticide use to fallout from the nearby Hanford nuclear cleanup site. State officials said there’s no evidence to date of any link.

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