Parents Baffled By Outbreak of Birth Defects in Aggieland

When five families in Bryan-College Station conceived children with an uncommon -- and usually fatal -- birth defect, they began searching for answers. And now, state health investigators and Texas A&M researchers are also part of that search.

The Bryan-College Station Eagle reports that the defect at issue is trisomy 18, which usually results in a baby dying within one week. Alas, four of the five BCS babies targeted in the study have died. The Texas Department of State Health Services wants to understand the reasons behind the cluster.

The babies were conceived between August 2009 and February 2010; prior to that, according to research cited in the article, "there were eight trisomy 18 cases reported in Brazos County in the previous decade." (Trisomy 18 is "the second most common chromosomal disorder after Down Syndrome, and is diagnosed in one out of every 3,000 births," according to research cited in the article).

The parents are wondering if the defects might be related to a July 2009 fire at the El Dorado Chemical Co. The facility held 557 tons of fertilizer at the time of the fire, but El Dorado's vice president told the paper that the actual amount that burned was less than that. ("When pressed, he couldn't offer a more realistic estimate..." the paper reports.)

A Texas Department of State Health Services report will be completed by year's end, Department Spokeswoman Carrie Williams told Hair Balls.

"What we're hoping to do is take a look at the cases in the area, and what we're looking for...is possible associations, and we hope to determine if any behavioral or demographic characteristics are associated with having a baby with trisomy 18," she said. "We don't have any information or evidence that suggests that these cases are in any way linked to the chemical plant fire. We're obviously aware of the fire and we are aware that community members are concerned....Establishing a definitive cause is very, very difficult to do, given the small number of cases." Finding a cause may take "multiple studies over time," she added.

We'll be interested to see the findings of the report, as well as the families' reactions.

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