Rise in Anencephaly (Like Microcephaly, a Neural Tube Defect) Cases Noted in One U.S. State

By AJN clinical editor Betsy Todd, MPH, RN, CIC

Maria Rosario Perez was one of the babies in the Washington State anencephaly clus- ter. Born May 25, 2012, she lived only 55 minutes. Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times.

Maria Rosario Perez was one of the babies in the Washington State anencephaly clus-
ter. Born May 25, 2012, she lived only 55 minutes. Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times.

Microcephaly has been in the news in recent months because of its possible link to Zika virus infection. Here in the U.S., an unusually high incidence of babies with anencephaly in the state of Washington has concerned health authorities for the past four years.

In the spring of 2012, several babies were born with anencephaly in three counties in south central Washington. This unusual cluster of cases, occurring at more than twice the national rate for anencephaly, was first recognized by nurse Sara Barron. She explores the state’s investigation in “Anencephaly: An Ongoing Investigation in Washington State” in the March issue of AJN.

Like microcephaly, anencephaly is a “neural tube defect” that leads to tragic pregnancy outcomes. In microcephaly, the baby’s brain has not developed properly and the head is smaller than expected. Anencephaly is even more severe: usually these babies are born without a skull or cerebral hemispheres, and most die within hours.

Case-control studies of anencephaly in Washington, along with previous studies exploring neural tube defects in general, point to several factors that may be associated with the development of such congenital malformations, including “folic acid deficit, genetic variants in the folate pathway, and exposure to a variety of environmental and occupational toxins.”

As of November 2015, cases of anencephaly in Washington State had continued to increase, with the current rate estimated at 9.5 per 10,000 live births. Read this month’s article to learn more.

2016-11-21T13:01:22+00:00 March 21st, 2016|Nursing, nursing perspective|2 Comments

About the Author:

Clinical editor, American Journal of Nursing (AJN), and epidemiologist

2 Comments

  1. Connie August 6, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    Candice, I’m so sorry for your loss, I lost three babies to anencephaly, 1985, 1986 and 1989, yes the potato famon in Ireland, many years ago had something to do with neural tube defects back then, but now it is related to a deficiency in folic acid, in 1976 I took part in a study at North Western University in Chicago, Illinois, and the only connection they found, was the folic acid deficiency, but now I’m wondering, about mosquitoes ?? With my life style, if it is related to mosquitos, it’s very possible ???

  2. Candace Kinsella RN March 22, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    I had a annacephalic in 1967 they said it was a genetic defect from the Irish Potato famine in 1840 in Ireland. I wonder if it has some connection to GMF now?
    Candace Kinsella RN

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