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Records Indicate Texas County’s Rate of Birth Defect Dates to 1986

June 2, 1992

HARLINGEN, Texas (AP) _ Recently discovered records suggest a high rate of a lethal brain deformity in one Texas county dates to 1986 and did not increase abruptly in 1989 as originally thought.

Investigators for the state Health Department and the national Centers for Disease Control were under the impression that the rate of anencephaly in Cameron County went from 3.6 cases for every 10,000 live births in 1988 to an average of 15 per 10,000 starting in 1989.

Documents from two hospitals in the south Texas county were discovered last week and showed 10 previously uncounted anencephalic babies were delivered between 1986 and 1988.

″When you put those additional cases in there ... the rate for the period between 1986 and 1988 becomes nearly identical to the increased rates we found during the 1989 to 1991 period,″ Dr. Dennis Perrotta, the Texas Department of Health’s director of epidemiology, said Monday.

Medical officials are still worried because the rate of the birth defect in 1986 was about three times the national average of two to three births per 10,000.

Anencephaly is a congenital malformation of the skull characterized by an absence of all or part of the brain.

Some local health officials and environmentalists have suggested a link between the birth defect and industrial dumping across the border in Mexico. The state Health Department and the CDC have not ruled out environmental causes but have been reluctant to single out a cause while they investigate.

Their study may be expanded in light of the new information.

″The negative thing is that if indeed there had been an environmental cause for the increase, it was going to be difficult for us to make that link if it was two or three years in the past,″ said Perrotta. ″It will now be more difficult because we have to go back″ even further.

Perrotta acknowledged that health officials are puzzled by rates released nearly two weeks ago for Matamoros, Mexico, that showed the town, just across the border from Brownsville in Cameron County, experienced an abrupt jump in anencephaly in 1989.

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