More American infants are being born with their intestines outside of their bodies, and the disturbing trend might be linked to the opioid crisis, health officials reported Thursday.
The condition, called gastroschisis, is caused by a hole beside the belly button. The hole can be small or large, and sometimes other organs such as the stomach and liver can also be outside of the baby’s body, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists.
“The cases of gastroschisis continue to increase, and we did see higher rates of cases in counties that had higher rates of opioid prescriptions,” said lead researcher Jennita Reefhuis. She is chief of the Birth Defects Branch at CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.
The researchers found that counties that had higher rates of opioid prescribing had nearly two times more babies born with gastroschisis, compared with counties with low opioid prescribing rates.
“However, we do not know if these two things are directly related,” Reefhuis stressed. “We plan to use this information to guide future research into the effects of opioids used during pregnancy.”
Babies born with gastroschisis need an operation to correct the condition. They also may need other treatments, including nutrients given through an IV, antibiotics to prevent infection and careful monitoring of their body temperature.
Each year, about 1,800 babies in the United States are born with gastroschisis, according to the CDC.
Pregnant women infected with the Zika virus are 20 times more likely to have a baby born with certain birth defects as mothers who gave birth before the Zika epidemic began, U.S. health officials reported Thursday.
Even worse, “when you look just at brain abnormalities and microcephaly, what we are seeing is more than 30 times higher than the prevalence before Zika was introduced to the Americas,” said Margaret Honein. She is chief of the birth defects branch at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With microcephaly, babies are born with a smaller-than-normal head and an underdeveloped brain. Since the mosquito-borne virus first began to spread through South America in April 2015, thousands of babies have been born with Zika-linked microcephaly. The large majority have been born in Brazil, but the consequences of Zika infection during pregnancy are now being seen in the United States.
A sweeping government study of thousands of women has found links between the older antidepressants Prozac and Paxil and birth defects, but has cleared other popular treatments in the class, including Celexa, Lexapro and Pfizer’s Zoloft, which is the subject of a major lawsuit over birth defect claims.
Earlier studies had raised questions about antidepressants in a class of drugs known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs, prompting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2005 to issue a safety warning about use of the treatments during pregnancy.
In the current study, published on Wednesday in the British Medical Journal, researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wanted to see if the birth defect risk affected the entire class of drugs, or only select treatments.
For the study, the researchers asked nearly 28,000 women if they took Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil or Zoloft any time from one month before conception through the third month of pregnancy and analyzed which women bore children with birth defects.
They found that many popular antidepressants – Celexa, Lexapro or Zoloft – are not associated with birth defects. Only two in the study, Prozac, sold generically as fluoxetine, and Paxil, sold generically as paroxetine, were implicated.
In women who took those two drugs early in pregnancy, birth defects occurred 2 to 3.5 times more frequently compared with women who did not take them.