Birth defects centered around the city of Yakima, Wa. have experts scratching their heads – literally. The bizarre defects in birth are affecting several babies born around Yakima, a rural city located about 60 miles southeast of Mount Rainier in the state of Washington.
As of January of last year, officials with the Washington state health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had tallied nearly two dozen cases over the course of a three-year period – more than four times the national average. And given the close proximity of the defective births – all in Yakima County – the coincidence factor is all but ruled out.
An additional “eight or nine” cases have now been reported, says Susie Ball of the Central Washington Genetics Program at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital. “It does strike me as a lot,” says Ball.
Thirty-year nursing veteran Sara Barron agrees. Barron, who works at Prosser Memorial Hospital near the Yakima River, said she’d seen perhaps one or two cases of anencephaly over her career – until now.
“And now I was sitting at Prosser, with 30 deliveries a month and there’s two cases in a six-month period,” Barron said. “Then, I was talking to another doctor about it and she has a third one coming. My teeth dropped. It was like, ‘Oh my God.’”
Barron notified state health officials, who are now looking into the problem.
“This is bizarre,” Barron said. “This is a very, very small area.”
Officials at the Center for Disease Control however have yet to reach out to individual mothers – a decision that the CDC said they do not plan to change.
Mandy Stahre, the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer based in Washington state, who led the inquiry, defending the CDC’s decision to say nothing to area mothers. “There were very few of us that could spend time doing this investigation,” Stahre said. “I’m not sure the women knew they were part of a cluster.”
Official word from the CDC is still that the unusual onset of anencephaly is nothing more than a coincidence. However, state officials are not convinced and are continuing their investigation.