ONE in every 422 Lismore babies born between 2008 and 2010 had the horrific birth defect gastroschisis, a NSW Health report released yesterday shows.
The final report into a Northern Rivers cluster of gastroschisis – a condition in which babies are born with their intestinal contents freely protruding through a hole in the abdomen – has also revealed there were 26 cases of the rare condition over the past decade within an area extending from the Tweed to Port Macquarie.
Only 11 of these cases had been reported to NSW Register of Congenital Conditions, with 15 babies’ details going unrecorded due do a breakdown in communication between NSW health authorities and the Brisbane hospital where the babies were transferred prior to birth for specialist treatment.
Media reporting and pressure from parents of children with the condition led NSW Health to convene a panel of experts to investigate the cluster.
The panel found that over a three-year period, between 2008 and 2010, in the Lismore local government area gastroschisis occurred at a rate of 23. 7 babies per 10,000 births.
The NSW average is two to three cases per 10,000 births.
The NSW Health report said the cluster was “a random event” which had a four-in-five chance of occurring somewhere across NSW in any three-year period.
“This is therefore not an unexpected event, and can be viewed as a normally expected variation in rate over regions and time periods,” the report said.
The investigation compared the Lismore rate of the condition over a 10 year period with rates in the Hunter-New England area and found they were no higher.
However, the investigation did not include a Stony Chute baby born on News Year’s Day because his birth was outside the time frame the panel examined.
A Byron Bay baby born in December last year was also excluded because the birth occurred in Sydney.
The report rejected a link between gastroschisis and herbicides as “poor and unconvincing.”
However, co-ordinator of the Bangalow-based National Toxics Network Jo Immig said the health affects of pesticides warranted further investigation, as was currently occurring in the US.
Goonellabah woman Kellie Thomas gave birth to a child with gastroschisis in July 2009 and said the findings had done little to allay her concerns.
“There must be something that is causing this to happen,” she said.
“I think there needs to be a more thorough study.”
Jacqui McSkimming, of Barkers Vale, who gave birth to a child with the condition in June 2010, has also rejected the report.
“They have chosen to present the cluster in a positive light to calm public concern,” she said.
“Not all the cases have been included, so the rates are higher than the report shows.”
The report said the rate of gastroschisis was increasing worldwide, and research was currently being conducted in Australia and worldwide to try to understand the risk factors.
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