March 3rd is the 5th anniversary of World Birth Defects Day! Join us in our effort to raise awareness of birth defects, their causes, and their impact around the world! This year’s theme is “Many birth defects, one voice.”
Every year, about 3-6% of infants worldwide are born with a serious birth defect. This means that life-altering conditions like spina bifida and congenital heart defects affect millions of babies and families. Birth defects can affect babies regardless of where they are born, their socioeconomic status, or their race or ethnicity.
Birth Defects Tracking and Research
Accurately tracking birth defects and analyzing the collected data is a first step in preventing birth defects. CDC uses tracking and research to identify causes of birth defects, find opportunities to prevent them, and improve the health of those living with birth defects. Understanding the potential causes of birth defects can lead to recommendations, policies, and services to help prevent them.
Importance of Birth Defects Tracking and Research
CDC has created birth defects tracking and research systems in the United States and around the world that help to identify the causes and long-term results of some birth defects.
Understanding the impact of Zika virus infection: In October 2015, public health officials saw an increase in the number of cases of microcephaly being reported to Brazil’s Ministry of Health.1 The World Health Organization declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on February 1, 2016 due to the association of Zika virus infection and microcephaly and other neurological disorders in babies born to mothers who were infected during pregnancy.2 CDC responded to the 2016 Zika virus outbreak by creating tracking and research systems to better understand birth defects that are linked to Zika virus infection. This information helps answer key questions about the chance of infection during pregnancy, provides information for clinical recommendations, and improves prevention.
Learn more about CDC’s global work to better understand Zika virus to protect all mothers and babies.
Preventing some birth defects with folic acid: If a woman has enough folic acid, a B vitamin, in her body before and during pregnancy, it can help prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine, called neural tube defects. CDC recommends that women of reproductive age get 400 micrograms of folic acid each day to help prevent neural tube defects.
An example of how birth defects tracking and research is put into public health action is the addition of folic acid to products that contain corn masa flour, such as tortillas. Through tracking and research, scientists found that Hispanic/Latina women are most likely to have a child affected by a birth defect of the brain and spine.3 In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a petition to allow folic acid to be added to corn masa flour to help more women in the United States get the recommended daily value of 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid.
Birth Defects Found – Science, Partnership, Policy
CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) is working with the World Health Organization and other partners on a global initiative, Birth Defects COUNT, to lower death and lifelong disability rates due to neural tube defects. Through Birth Defects COUNT, CDC collaborates with partners to
Improve tracking of neural tube defects and other birth defects;
Monitor fortification efforts; and
Improve ways to measure the amount of folic acid needed in the blood to prevent neural tube defects.
Preparing for the Next Emerging Threat
Birth defects can be the first sign that an emerging infection causes serious harm. The 2016 Zika virus outbreak demonstrated the need to rapidly collect data for public health action. With state, local, and territorial health departments, CDC collected information about Zika’s impact during pregnancy on mothers and babies. The lessons learned from the 2016 Zika virus outbreak can be applied to other known or emerging threats to mothers and babies. Through birth defects tracking and research, scientists will be able to identify and monitor an emerging threat to pregnant women and their babies, a key component of public health preparedness.