Anencephaly Investigation

Between January 2010 and December 2017, 47 babies were confirmed with anencephaly in Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties. This results in a rate of anencephaly that is higher than average. The Department of Health investigated to understand why.

What is anencephaly?

Anencephaly is a rare birth defect in which the baby's brain and skull do not fully form. Babies with this birth defect die during pregnancy or soon after being born.

Anencephaly is a type of neural tube defect. Neural tube defects are birth defects of the brain, spine, or spinal cord. These birth defects happen early in pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.

To learn more about other types of birth defects, visit our birth defects webpage.

What can women do to prevent anencephaly?

We do not know the specific causes of Anencephaly. However, women can reduce their risk by getting enough folic acid, especially if you are able to get pregnant. The best way to get enough folic acid is to take a daily multivitamin with 400 µg folic acid. Some women may need higher amounts of folic acid, so check with your doctor. Women should also eat foods with folate. Foods with naturally high amounts of folate include beans, lentils, cereals, breads, oranges, avocados, seeds, nuts, spinach, dark leafy greens, and broccoli.

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention webpage for more information about folic acid.

For women not planning on becoming pregnant:

  • Even if you are not trying to become pregnant, folic acid is an important part of a healthy diet.
  • The fact is that about half of pregnancies are not planned. Getting enough folic acid helps make sure your body is healthy and ready if you become pregnant.
  • All women ages 11-49 years with Apple Health (Medicaid) can get free multivitamins.
  • Get more information about women's health.

For women trying to become pregnant:

  • See and talk to your health care provider before you plan to get pregnant.
  • Take a prenatal vitamin daily and eat foods with folic acid. If you have Apple Health (Medicaid), ask your provider for a prescription for prenatal vitamins.
  • If you drink water from a private well, have it tested annually for nitrate and bacteria. Read more about testing your well water (PDF).
  • Get more information about planning for a pregnancy.

For pregnant women:

  • Continue to take your daily prenatal vitamin and eat foods with folic acid. If you have Apple Health (Medicaid), ask your provider for a prescription for prenatal vitamins.
  • See if you qualify for the WIC Nutrition Program. WIC provides healthy foods, nutrition education and other benefits.
  • Get prenatal care early in pregnancy.
  • Get more information about women's health during pregnancy.

How many women are affected by anencephaly?

Anencephaly is rare. On average, anencephaly affects about 2 out of every 10,000 pregnancies. In Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties, the rate is higher. More than 7 out of every 10,000 pregnancies in these counties have been affected with anencephaly. Between January 2010 and December 2017, 47 pregnancies were affected with anencephaly in these counties.

Where can I get more information about the investigation?

If you would like more information about the investigation, visit our webpages:

Or, send us your questions to:

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