News from the FDA/CDC

Infant deaths from birth defects decline, but some disparities widen



Infant mortality attributable to birth defects (IMBD) fell 10% from 2003 to 2017, but some racial/ethnic disparities widened over that time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The total rate of IMBD dropped from 12.2 cases per 10,000 live births in 2003 to 11 cases per 10,000 in 2017, with decreases occurring “across the categories of maternal race/ethnicity, infant sex, and infant age at death,” Lynn M. Almli, PhD, of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities and associates wrote in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Rates were down for infants of white non-Hispanic, black non-Hispanic, and Hispanic mothers, but disparities among races/ethnicities persisted or even increased. The IMBD rate for infants born to Hispanic mothers, which was 15% higher than that of infants born to white mothers in 2003, was 26% higher by 2017. The difference between infants born to black mothers and those born to whites rose from 32% in 2003 to 34% in 2017, the investigators reported.

The disparities were even greater among subgroups of infants categorized by gestational age. From 2003 to 2017, IMBD rates dropped by 20% for infants in the youngest group (20-27 weeks), 25% for infants in the oldest group (41-44 weeks), and 29% among those born at 39-40 weeks, they said.

For moderate- and late-preterm infants, however, IMBD rates went up: Infants born at 32-33 weeks and 34-36 weeks each had an increase of 17% over the study period, Dr. Almli and associates noted, based on data from the National Vital Statistics System.

“The observed differences in IMBD rates by race/ethnicity might be influenced by access to and utilization of health care before and during pregnancy, prenatal screening, losses of pregnancies with fetal anomalies, and insurance type,” they wrote, and trends by gestational age “could be influenced by the quantity and quality of care for infants born before 30 weeks’ gestation, compared with that of those born closer to term.”

Birth defects occur in approximately 3% of all births in the United States but accounted for 20% of infant deaths during 2003-2017, the investigators wrote, suggesting that “the results from this analysis can inform future research into areas where efforts to reduce IMBD rates are needed.”

SOURCE: Almli LM et al. MMWR. 2020 Jan 17;69(2):25-9.

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