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March 24, 2014
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Prenatal defects investigated in Western Slope’s Garfield County

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A state epidemiologist has been called in to investigate a sudden rise in the number of fetal anomalies detected among pregnant women in the area recently, according to local and state health officials.

“We have indeed seen an increase in fetal anomalies in pregnant women in an area stretching from Carbondale to Rifle,” confirmed Stacey Gavrell, community relations director for Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.

“At this point, we can’t classify any specific kinds of birth defects,” she said, adding the information has been reported by prenatal care providers in Garfield County that work with VVH.

Gavrell also did not disclose specific numbers of cases reported and over what period of time, and how much that number may have increased.

“Their [providers] sentiment is that it’s too early to speculate on the threats of this, the causes and the specific kinds of abnormalities [birth defects] that could result,” she said.

It is enough of a concern, however, that the hospital turned the information over to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Gavrell said.

CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley confirmed on Friday that state health officials have been notified “about possible prenatal birth anomalies” in Garfield County.

“We are investigating,” Salley said. “But from the preliminary review, the department has not seen any evidence that would cause the department to notify the community of a public health concern.”

Once the investigation and final report are completed, the information will be made public. That is likely to take several weeks, he said.

“We still are gathering data and information,” Salley said, adding that an abstractor from the CDPHE has reviewed and documented information from the medical records provided by the clinic that reported the information.

An epidemiologist is now investigating the different variables, notations in the medical records and any correlations between the cases, which will be included in the final report, he said.

A fetal anomaly occurs during pregnancy and can include any abnormal development in the growing fetus that requires special care before the birth of the baby, according to information obtained from the World Health Organization website.

Congenital anomalies (birth defects) are disorders or malformations present at the time of birth, and can range from cleft lip or palate to heart and spinal cord defects, including spina bifida.

Gavrell did not say if there has been a corresponding increase in birth defects among newborns at VVH.

“Obviously, we are taking this seriously because of the impacts on health,” she said. “Right now, we want to make sure that the epidemiologist is working to understand this.”


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