Number of Neural Tube Defects Increases in SC

Birth Defects Prevention Month reminder for women to take folic acid

Folic Acid Logo RGBJanuary 22, 2016 – The South Carolina Birth Defects Prevention Program, based at the Greenwood Genetic Center, reports that the number of infants born with severe birth defects of the brain and spine increased in the state last year. The risk of these malformations, termed neural tube defects or NTDs, can be reduced by taking folic acid prior to and during early pregnancy.

Increased numbers of the birth defects were noted in the Midlands and Coastal regions of the state. These two regions experienced a doubling of babies with those defects over previous years.

Since 1992, the SC Birth Defects Prevention Program has promoted the use of the B vitamin folic acid as the major method of preventing NTDs. "Studies have shown that a daily multivitamin containing folic acid, if taken for three months before pregnancy and for the first two months of pregnancy can reduce the risk of these serious birth defects by about 70%," said Program Coordinator, Jane Dean, RN.

Between October 1, 2014 and September 30, 2015, 21 infants with NTDs were born in the 16 counties of the Midlands Region of SC. The average for the region in the past three years was nine cases per year.

In the 17 counties of the Coastal Region, there were 24 cases. The average for the past three years was 14 affected babies.

Of the 45 NTDs in these two regions, 28 were isolated defects, suggesting that use of folic acid by the mother could have reduced the risk for these infants being affected. The remaining 17 babies had an NTD along with other birth defects. These cases are less likely to be preventable by folic acid.

For the Upstate/Piedmont Region of SC, 10 cases occurred which is consistent with data from recent years.

"At present, we do not understand why the numbers of NTD cases have increased in these regions," said Roger Stevenson, MD, Senior Clinical Geneticist at the Greenwood Genetic Center and Director of SC Birth Defects Prevention Program. "Are women not getting the message about the importance of taking 0.4 mg of folic acid before becoming pregnant? Do they know the message but are not taking the protective dose of folic acid? Or is it just simply an unusual year with a greater number of cases which might be resistant to folic acid protection?"

"Our efforts for the coming year will be increased with the addition of more staff and public awareness campaigns which will incorporate our new logo and re-designed materials," said Dean. "The new look is brighter and more eye-catching to make sure all women of childbearing age see the message and understand the importance of taking folic acid every day."

Governor Nikki Haley has proclaimed January as Birth Defect Prevention Month in SC.

For more information on this data see the 2016 NTD Newsletter.

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