YAKIMA, WA--State health officials are releasing new information on their investigation into neural tube birth defect cases that are emerging across the Yakima Valley.
Health experts said they know many people are concerned about the rising number of neural tube birth defects. That's why they're putting together an advisory panel of national experts as well as state and local health providers to try and figure out what the next steps should be.
Seven more cases of the fatal birth defect anencephaly were found in Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties last year. Anencephaly is a rare defect in which a baby's brain and skull doesn't fully form during the first months of pregnancy.
"We don't think that there is a risk to every single person who's pregnant out there, but everyone should be talking to their health care providers," said Mandy Stahre, with the Washington State Department of Health. "They should be looking at how their diet is and are they getting enough folic acid."
This is the fourth year in which the Tri-County area has had neural tube birth defect rates well above the national average.
"We've talked to a lot of groups in this area to try to determine what are some possible environmental factors, and at this point we need to bring in an advisory panel together so they can help us identify areas that we've missed or possible things that we haven't looked at yet," said Stahre.
The Department of Health is looking for any commonalities between the cases including environmental factors and prenatal care. But the department said so far the investigation has been inconclusive. There are no significant differences between women who had babies with neural tube defects and women who had healthy pregnancies.
Andrea Jackman's daughter was born with a neural tube defect called spina bifida, which affects spinal cord formation. Jackman said she just wants direct information from the Department of Health.
"Me as a mother, I would want somebody to contact me," said Jackman. "Link together all the common factors."
We asked the Department of Health why they haven't contacted affected mothers. They said they're using medical records to compare the cases because they said it's challenging for mothers to remember exact details during their pregnancies.
The Department of Health said they'll hold community sessions where people can voice their concerns and questions about the neural tube birth defects. No exact dates have been set, but there will be one in Yakima and one in the Tri-Cities.
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