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Birth defects experts: Missing skull parts, defects rising and worrying doctors

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Birth defects experts have recently revealed that a rising number of defects among babies has been hitting rural Washington, with anencephaly — babies born missing brain or skull parts — being a leading problem. This mysterious outbreak of extreme health issues has led health officials to examine what might be causing this worrying trend, though doctors have few leads at this time. NBC News reports this Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, that cases are at an all-time high in the Yakima region in particular, sparking national concern for these children and their families.

According to experts, severe birth defects in Washington have become nothing less than a “cluster” of serious cases that have only risen in the past several years. Both state and federal authorities have not released a specific number of mothers who have recently had babies born with anencephaly, a tragic and detrimental condition where the boy or girl is born missing major parts of the skull or brain. At this time, officials have added that they have not yet interviewed these women for similarities or links potentially leading to these birth defects, or warned Yakima mothers there might be a major problem at hand.

However, Washington state health department officials, as well as members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have confirmed that since Jan. 2013 alone, almost 24 women have had children suffering from these severe birth defects like anencephaly. This number — while seemingly low at first — is over four times the U.S. average, revealing a significantly worrying trend.

In light of this, say birth defects experts and doctors, something needs to be done to counter this troubling health issue. One official from Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, genetic counselor Susie Ball, noted that she can confirm an additional “eight to nine” cases of spina bifida and anencephaly in the past months alone.

“It does strike me as a lot,” says Ball of the detrimental conditions.

Perhaps most challenging of all is that one Washington mother who had a baby born not missing skull parts, but with spina bifida (and thus still part of the birth defects cluster) said that she was not warned of any health issue whatsoever in the Yakima area.

“I had no idea,” said Andrea Jackman, 30, whose baby daughter, Olivia, was born in late 2013 with the most severe form of spina bifida. “I honestly was really surprised that nobody had said anything. If my doctor hadn’t wanted us to see the geneticist, I wouldn’t have known.”

Hopefully an investigation into this worrying trend and an examination by experts of these mothers who had children born with extreme birth defects might yield some answers. But the case is a bizarre and tragic one.

“This is bizarre,” added one health official. “This is a very, very small area.”

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