Babies born without an arm or a hand, the mystery that worries France | Society



Why are children born without an arm or a hand in some very localized areas of France? The question, which had been hovering around the country for several weeks now, has resurfaced now more strongly than ever, after knowing that the problem could be much wider than previously believed. And, also, because there still is not a clear answer not only on the number of affected, but even on the possible reasons for these cases of agenesis in members located so far in a period of 15 years. Could it be the fault of some medication taken during pregnancy? Of some food? Or is it something that breathes? Are the pesticides behind these congenital malformations, as some ecologists believe? The problem has become a national dimension and has forced the authorities to announce a new investigation more extensive than the previous ones.

A previous study by the health authorities it was closed at the beginning of October without conclusive answers, to the frustration of the affected families and of not a few politicians. The figures, the experts argued at the time, were unusual but not necessarily alarming: four cases in the Breton department of Morbihan of babies born between 2011 and 2013; three around Mouzeil, in the Loire-Atlantique, during the period 2007-08, and seven more in Ain, in the east of the country, between 2009 and 2014. Even though all the cases had taken place in a very restricted perimeter -For example, those of Ain are located within a radius of 17 kilometers from the town of Druillat-, no convincing conclusion was reached and the matter was shelved indicating that, although in Brittany and in the Loire-Atlantique there was a "Excess of cases", the same could not be said of Ain. In any case, they added, no concrete cause could have been established for these congenital malformations in upper limbs that, according to official figures, suffer about 150 babies every year throughout France.

"There may be a chromosomal reason, medicine, they can have an environmental motive, they may be mixed motives, but today we do not have the slightest hint that allows us to move forward, "Francois Bourdillon, general director of the French Public Health Agency, said at the time. The same as now, just four weeks later, has confirmed that a new investigation is "underway", this time at the national level.

The reason: on Tuesday, the same agency confirmed that 11 more possible cases are being studied in Ain, which would raise to 18 the number of babies born between 2000 and 2014 who lack an arm, forearm or a hand. The news has turned the situation around. The Public Health Agency has launched a "national investigation". While waiting for the results, which will take at least three months, the speculations multiply. And the authorities do not dare to discard anything.

"We are not going to close any clues," he said on Wednesday. the Minister of Health, Agnès Buzyn. "I want to know, I think that all of France wants to know" what is happening, "we can not be content with saying that we have not found a cause," he added in statements to BFM TV, in which he advanced an "environmental track". It may be linked to what the mothers of the affected children ate during pregnancy, or to something they "breathed", he ventured. "We're not going to hide anything," promised Bourdillon.

Sample of the nervousness is the change of attitude with respect to the researcher Emmanuelle Amar. The epidemiologist, who directs the registry of malformations in Rhône-Alpes, where the department of Ain is located, was the first to give the warning signal about the unusual number of cases concentrated in areas such as Ain. Accused by other colleagues of behaving in an alarmist manner, the scientist was notified last Friday of her dismissal. According to the Sunday Journal du Dimanche, which revealed the news, Amar had declared last week before a parliamentary group on environmental health that the first time he warned that something strange was happening was in February 2011 and also criticized the way to analyze the cases on the ground of the Health Agency. But the scientist can breathe something more calm. On Monday, he received a new notice informing him that his dismissal was "suspended."

The new investigations launched will initially focus on the department of Ain to extend throughout the month of November throughout the Rhône-Alpes region and then to the entire territory, said the head of the Public Health Agency.

The transverse agenesis of the upper limbs causes the absence of the formation of a hand, forearm or arm during the development of the embryo. According to the Public Health Agency, in France they are "rare malformations". In fact, the incidence in this country is 1.7 cases per 10,000 births, around 150 cases per year.

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