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FIRST STATEWIDE REPORT ON BIRTH DEFECTS SHOWS NO LINK TO RACE, ECONOMIC STATUS

 FIRST STATEWIDE REPORT ON BIRTH DEFECTS
 SHOWS NO LINK TO RACE, ECONOMIC STATUS
 SEATTLE, Jan. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- The following was released today by the Washington State Department of Health:
 The risk of having a child with birth defects is virtually unaffected by the parents' age, race, or economic status, according to the first statewide report on birth defects.
 The report, "Brighter Futures: Understanding Birth Defects in Washington State," also found that 2 to 3 percent of the nearly 70,000 children born in Washington each year have at least one birth defect.
 "Birth defects don't play favorites," said Sterling Clarren, M.D., director of the Birth Defects Division at Children's Hospital and Medical Center and chairman of the State Birth Defects Advisory Committee. "Most parents I meet think their chances of having a child with a birth defect are one in 10 thousand. The real chances are much higher. There's an enormous discrepancy between perception and reality.
 The report was issued today by the State Department of Health and the March of Dimes at a press conference at the Seattle Children's Museum. Among its findings:
 -- Birth defects were found in 355 (27 percent) of the total 1,297 infants who died in 1987 and 1988.
 -- Of the more than 140,000 children born in Washington in 1987 and 1988, 3,749 had a total of more than 10,000 birth defects. Some children had as many as 27 birth defects.
 -- Of these 3,749 children, 44 percent (1,654) were likely to die or suffer developmental disabilities, including hearing or speech deficiencies, impaired motor skills, and social or emotional development.
 The report covers children born in 1987 and 1988 who were diagnosed with birth defects before one year of age. The children were identified through the statewide birth defects registry. Data from older children and children born in 1989 and later were not yet complete when the information was compiled last year. That data was not complete because of the time needed to follow children for one year and to gather and process information about the children's medical conditions and their treatment.
 The report finds that, when looking at all birth defects, the risk is virtually unaffected by parents' age, race, or economic status, with the exception of mothers over the age 39, who show a significantly higher risk.
 Experts point out that in individual categories of birth defects, however, Down's syndrome is more common in children whose mothers are over 35 years of age; neural tube defects (missing brain and open spinal cord) are more common in lower socio-economic groups; and clubfoot is less common in Asians than in the other racial or ethnic groups.
 The types of birth defects covered range from common ones like Down's syndrome and cleft lip to more rare ones, such as absent limbs.
 Heart defects are the most common type of birth defect and were found in 88 of the 355 infant deaths over the two-year period. Fifty deaths were linked to kidney or urinary conditions and an additional 44 deaths were linked to Down's and other chromosomal syndromes.
 While some birth defects are linked to specific genes or chromosomes, the causes for 86 percent of birth defects are unknown.
 "This report tells us how much we don't know," said Jennifer Howse, Ph.D., president of the National March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation. "And that means we need more research efforts in Washington state and nationwide. We need to know how many defects have been caused by mothers using drugs, alcohol and tobacco. I think we've seen only the tip of the iceberg."
 Over the two-year period, 24 children were diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), a combination of physical and mental defects children develop before birth when pregnant women drink alcohol. In addition to mental retardation, alcohol can cause heart, nervous system and other birth defects.
 Also, mothers who smoke are at a 21-percent higher risk to deliver children with birth defects. Mothers who receive prenatal care late, or who receive none at all, as well as mothers who have had seven or more pregnancies, have an increased risk. The report also found the risk higher among male children and twins.
 "A healthy life for all women of child-bearing age, clearly is a factor in minimizing birth defects," said Washington State Health Officer Mimi Fields, M.D., M.P.H., a preventive medicine specialist. "By investing in their own health through not smoking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs, along with eating well, exercising and receiving early prenatal care, women are creating a better life for themselves and a healthy start on life for their children."
 The statewide birth defects registry was designed to identify all children diagnosed with birth defects by age four, and who were born or stillborn beginning on Jan. 1, 1986. Staff use hospital discharge records, birth records, treatment program records and other sources to identify possible cases. Final determination of eligibility for the registry is made after a complete review of the child's medical records. Washington is one of only five states selected for funding by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to collect and analyze information related to birth defects. The registry operates on about $250,000 in federal dollars and another $150,000 in stated funds. The federal funding is expected to end May 31. The State Department of Health is exploring other funding options to maintain the registry.
 "We urge the state to fund Washington's birth defects registry at a level that will allow it to grow to its full potential in birth defects surveillance, prevention and treatment," Howse said.
 -O- 1/16/92
 /CONTACT: Dean R. Owen of Washington State Department of Health, 206-753-3934; or Nancy J. White of March of Dimes, 206-624-1373/ CO: Washington State Department of Health; March of Dimes ST: Washington IN: HEA SU:


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