DOZENS of babies have been born without hands, forearms or arms in several rural areas in France – and no one knows why.
As health officials continue investigating the mysterious rise in congenital birth defects, mums are “angry” as they feel that they have been “abandoned”, says a report.
Getty – Contributor There has been no common thread found between the incidences of babies born missing hands or arms
In October last year, France launched a nationwide probe into why clusters of babies were born without limbs in certain farming zones since 2000.
Reuters says that, at the same time, a separate investigation was also opened into reports that calves and possibly chickens have been born without limbs in the same three heavily agricultural areas.
Researchers have been investigating why there has been a rise in newborns with a rare defect known as upper limb reduction – where part of or the whole baby’s arm doesn’t form properly during pregnancy.Where were the babies born with limb defects?
Seven cases of babies born with limb defects were reported during 2009-14 in the rural Ain department of eastern France, eastern Rhônes-Alpes region, near the Swiss border.
Public health agency Santé Publique France (SPF) said it had identified 11 additional cases of babies born with limb defects between 2000 and 2014 in this area.
There have also been malformed births in western France, including in Brittany.
Four babies were born with limb defects in the region of Morbihan between 2011 and 2013, along with three newborns in neighbouring Loire-Atlantique in 2007 and 2008, says Reuters.
Mail Online reports that in all, more than 20 cases have been reported in the past 15 years in Brittany, Loire-Atlantique and Ain.
So far, there has been no accepted explanation for the clusters.
With cases reported in specific rural areas, some environmentalists have suggested pesticides or other chemicals could be to blame.
But, several reports in the French media, including The Local, say that no evidence backs this up.
Health minister Health Minister Agnès Buzyn said last year: “It could be an environmental factor. Maybe it is due to what these women ate, drank or breathed in.”
She said investigators would try to determine whether the affected families have anything in common.
The mums of babies born with deformed limbs have already been tested for various substances, such as drugs and excessive amounts of booze, according to Mail Online.
Reuters says that reports in France have “raised alarm among the French public that some kind of toxin in food, water or air could be responsible.”
Epidemiologist Emmanuelle Amar, who first revealed the birth defects in Ain, told the news agency the only thing mothers of the affected babies had in common was that they lived in cereal-growing areas amid fields of corn and sunflower.
She said most of the defects had been reported between 2009 and 2014 and that since then there had been no new cases.
Amar added that congenital defects in the affected regions had been much higher than what would normally be expected.
She said: “It is a terrible tragedy for the families.”
Reuters points out that birth defects can have multiple causes, including chromosome disorders, drug use or exposure to toxic substances.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, about 10,000 babies worldwide were born with malformed or missing limbs after their mothers received the drug thalidomide to treat morning sickness.
Amar told France 24 that if obstetricians in the regions affected had been informed years ago, “they could have done in-depth screening.
“When they noticed that a hand was missing, they could have taken amniotic fluid and meconium samples from the baby, and hair samples from the mother at birth, to test for xenobiotics [chemical substance] to gain a better understanding of what they might have been exposed to.”
She told the broadcaster that affected families were “disappointed” they still have no clue as to why babies were born with the deformities.
Amar said the mums were “angry” and felt “abandoned” as “preventative measures [could have been] taken from the start”.
Calves born without legs
Amar told Reuters last year that in the Ain region farmers had also reported calves being born without tails and without flanks.
An official at the national food safety agency Anses told Reuters it had now opened a separate investigation into legless calves in the three same regions.
Poultry may also be investigated as there are suspicions about chickens being affected.
An initial inquiry in early October found the incidence of limb defects in the affected regions to be no greater than elsewhere in the country – but now the probe has been widened.
France 24 says that campaigners, health professionals and parents met in Paris for the first time last Thursday to discuss the mystery.
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A separate panel of experts will meet in March, also for the first time, to “identify and analyse” possible causes of the rare defect, the broadcaster adds.
The ministry of health expects a panel of scientific experts to report full findings on the mystery by the end of June – in light of public alarm over the cases.
AFP or licensors French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn suggested the deformities could have been caused by an ‘environmental factor’
Alamy Loire-Atlantique is one of several rural areas where there have been clusters of the malformed births
With cases reported in rural area, some environmentalists have suggested pesticides or other chemicals could be to blame – but there is no evidence to back this up