Surveillance program finds answers and ways to prevent congenital disabilities
Every pregnant couple’s worst nightmare is to find out something is wrong with their baby. As an Obgyn, I have seen the anguish on many patients’ faces. They ask the question, “why did this happen to my baby?”
The Texas Department of State Health Services tracks new baby deliveries each year to help parents find answers. Texas received excellent news this week. The Texas Medical Association reported new funding is on the way to track and trend birth defects.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention will give $300,000 for the next five years to help support the Texas public health efforts. Texas monitors congenital disabilities inside of the Department of State and Health Services.
A robust group of public health experts tracks data through The Texas Birth Defects Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch. The mission is “to identify and describe the patterns and outcomes of children with birth defects in Texas and to collaborate with others in research, prevention, and family outreach services.”
The new funding allows scientists to evaluate environmental and health links that may cause congenital disabilities.
The CDC data shows that “every 4 ½ minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect in the United States.” Of the 3.75 million babies born each year, 120,000 of them will have some form of anomaly.
Birth defects can be minor such as an extra finger, or major such as congenital heart disease. We can break down congenital disabilities into easy-to-understand categories provided by the National Institute of Health.
Structural Birth Defects
Structural birth defects are abnormalities in specific body parts. Common examples are:
- Cleft lip or cleft palate
- Heart defects, such as missing or misshaped valves
- Abnormal limbs, such as a clubfoot
- Neural tube defects, such as spina bifida
Functional or Developmental Birth Defects
Functional or developmental congenital disabilities occur when there is a problem with how a body part or body system works. Examples include:
- Nervous system or brain problems.
- Sensory problems.
- Metabolic disorders.
- Degenerative disorders.
The Texas Birth Defects Registry has a long history and is now celebrating its 25th anniversary. The idea formed after a cluster of fetal brain disorders spiked along the 1200-mile shared border with Mexico in 1990. Doctor’s noticed a high number of babies born with anencephaly, a fatal birth defect where a baby is missing most of the brain and skull.
The data showed a combination of environmental, genetic, and nutritional factors lead to the spike in Latin X women. Responding to this crisis, the Texas State Legislature passed the Texas Birth Defects Act in 1993, which created The Texas Birth Defects Epidemiology and Surveillance (BDES) Branch.
Back in 1990, over 80% of the people were Hispanic, and over 40% of the families had low incomes. BDES studied the health disparities between Texans living along the border with Mexico. Researchers found high rates of obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic disturbances.
The data also revealed high rates of environmental pollutants from the border town of Matamoros, Mexico. The Rio Grande Valley community had high toxic chemicals levels, including heavy metals, pesticides, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
But the most critical finding was the low dietary intake of a vitamin called Folic Acid. Scientists now know that taking the daily recommended dose of 0.4 mg of Folic Acid daily can reduce the risk of neural tubes defects like anencephaly by 70%.
The Texas Birth Defects Registry helped identify this link and launched public health campaigns to encourage community clinics to spread the word. A daily prenatal vitamin, including Folic Acid, is now the standard of care for pregnant people.
The new CDC funding for the Texas Birth Defects Registry will allow more accurate reporting. The Department of State and Health Services will include data from Texas Medicaid to improve the accuracy of underreported cases or missing prenatal diagnoses. The registry will also share and collect data from electronic medical record systems.
This new money from the CDC will help Texas track and trend the most accurate data to identify at-risk populations better and increase our States ability to protect pregnant people and babies.