Birth Defects In Rural Washington Stun Experts

A group of small communities in central Washington may be facing a very big problem.

Doctors there are baffled by a cluster of local cases involving a birth defect known as anencephaly, in which babies are born with parts of their brain or skull missing. A study released last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed nearly two dozen such cases were reported from January 2010 through January 2013. This means that instances of anencephaly in rural Yakima County area are four times as high as the national estimate, ABC News points out.

Susie Ball of the Central Washington Genetics Program at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital recently told NBC News that she has reported “eight or nine” additional cases of anencephaly since the CDC's 2013 report.

The CDC and the Washington State Department of Health have yet to say exactly how many newborns in the counties of Yakima, Benton and Franklin were born with anencephaly. The agencies' study consisted of 27 women whose newborns had neural tube defects in 2010-2012; 23 of the babies were affected by anencephaly, but the CDC did not say whether these 23 were the total number of local infants born with the condition. The total number of infants born with the condition in 2013 has not yet been reported.

Researchers used the women’s medical records to examine the hospitals where they gave birth, where they worked, if they smoked, drank alcohol or had any other diseases. The study did not find any unifying link.

NBC says no direct interviews have been conducted by the CDC and no mothers have been told that their heartbreaking cases might be connected.

"No statistically significant differences were identified between cases and controls, and a clear cause of the elevated prevalence of anencephaly was not determined," the report reads.

The report also indicates that it would monitor the issue only through 2013. In a statement to The Huffington Post, the CDC confirmed that it is still receiving updates from the Washington State Department of Health, but that nothing new has come in recently. The CDC will be reviewing the health department's analysis and expects to have a new report available in the spring.

This post has been updated.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the CDC analyzed the data in its report. The Washington State Department of Health is responsible for analyzing the data and sending it to the CDC.