Kids conceived during spring, summer register highest birth defects

March 31st, 2009 - 1:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 31 (IANS) Kids conceived during spring and summer have been found to have the highest birth defect rates, according to a new study. Its authors co-related the defects with enhanced pesticide levels in surface water across the US during these seasons.
Studying all 30.1 million births in the US between 1996 and 2002, researchers found a strong link between the increased number of birth defects in children of women whose last menstrual period occurred in April, May, June or July and elevated levels of nitrates, atrazine and other pesticides in surface water during the same months.

Many of these chemicals, including herbicide atrazine which is banned in European countries but permitted in the US, are suspected to be harmful to the developing embryo.

This is the first study to link their increased seasonal concentration in surface water with the peak in birth defects in infants conceived in the same months.

The correlation between the month of last menstrual period and higher rates of birth defects was statistically significant for half of the 22 categories of birth defects reported in a Centres for Disease Control (CDC) database from 1996 to 2002 including spina bifida, cleft lip, clubfoot and Down’s syndrome.

“Elevated concentrations of pesticides and other agrochemicals in surface water during April through July coincided with significantly higher risk of birth defects in live births conceived by women whose last menstrual period began in the same months,” said Paul Winchester, Indiana University professor of clinical paediatrics, and study co-author.

“Birth defects, which affect about three out of 100 newborns in the US, are one of the leading causes of infant death. What we are most excited about is that if our suspicions are right and pesticides are contributing to birth defect risk, we can reverse or modify the factors that are causing these lifelong and often very serious medical problems,” said Winchester.

Birth defects are known to be associated with risk factors such as alcohol, smoking, diabetes or advanced age. However, the researchers found that even mothers who didn’t report these risk factors had higher overall birth defect rates for babies conceived from April to July, said an Indiana release.

These findings are slated for publication in the April issue of Acta Paediatrica.

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