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Extremely high prevalence of neural tube defects in a 4-county area in Shanxi Province, China.

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Institute of Reproductive and Child Health, Peking University Health Science Center, People's Republic of China.



In the past, northern China's Shanxi Province has reported the highest incidence of neural tube defects (NTDs) in the world. However, little is known about the epidemiology of NTDs in this area in recent years.


Data were collected from a population-based birth defects surveillance system in 4 counties that captures information on all live births, stillbirths of at least 20 weeks' gestation, and pregnancy terminations at any gestational age resulting from prenatal diagnosis of a birth defect. We also surveyed mothers of NTD case patients to determine their use of folic acid before and during early pregnancy.


During 2003, 160 NTD cases were identified among 11,534 births (NTD birth prevalence = 138.7/10,000 births). The rates of anencephaly, spina bifida and encephalocele were 65.9, 58.1, and 14.7 per 10,000, respectively, and a female predominance was observed among anencephaly cases (male-to-female relative risk [RR], 0.49; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.30-0.79), but not among spina bifida (RR, 0.90; 95% CI, 0.55-1.45) and encephalocele (RR, 1.03; 95% CI, 0.40-2.69) cases. The percentages of pregnancy termination following prenatal diagnosis of anencephaly, spina bifida, and encephalocele were 50%, 41.8%, and 35.3%, respectively. NTD birth prevalence tended to be higher among mothers aged <20 or > or =30 years (P = .06) and was markedly associated with lower levels of maternal education (P < .001). Among 143 NTD mothers, only 6 (4.2%) used folic acid supplements during the periconceptional period.


The NTD birth prevalence rate in the study area is among the highest worldwide. Folic acid deficiency may be one important risk factor.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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