In Brief

Cluster of Rare Birth Defects Under Investigation

A pregnant woman holding an ultrasound photo.
(Image credit: <a href=''> Ultrasound photo</a> via Shutterstock)

Health officials are investigating a cluster of serious birth defects in a region of Washington State, but still have not identified any common factor linked with the cases.

Over the last four years, at least 30 babies in the region have been born with anencephaly, a birth defect in which a child is missing parts of the brain and skull, according to NBC News. The rate of anencephaly cases near Yakima, Wash., is 8.7 per 10,000 births, much higher than the U.S. national rate of 2.1 cases per 10,000 births, NBC says.

The cluster could turn out to be simply a coincidence, but health officials may conduct interviews with parents to look for possible links, NBC says.

Nearly all babies born with anencephaly die shortly after birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One risk factor for the condition is low intake of folic acid before and during pregnancy, and people in the cluster region are known to have a low rate of folic acid use, NBC says.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.