France has launched a nationwide investigation into abnormal rates of babies born with missing or malformed limbs in several regions, after 11 new cases were identified.
In October, the country’s health agency, Santé Publique France, presented at a press conference seven cases in three different geographical areas that had been alerted by the regional register for birth defects, Remera.
Additional tests conducted with hospital data in the Ain region, near the Swiss border, revealed more suspect cases, totaling 18 over 15 years from 2000 to 2014. For now, the cause remains unknown, said Health Minister Agnès Buzyn.
“It could be an environmental issue. It could be what they ate or what they drank. It could be something that they’ve breathed in. I don’t know,” Buzyn told French TV station BFM TV.
Pesticides are suspected to be to blame for the deformities, with the particular products likely to no longer be on the market, Emmanuelle Amar, director of Remera, told CNN in an email. She added this is based solely on assumptions for now. “These cases occurred at a given time and then they stopped occurring. Either that the product used is no longer being used, or that the person or entity that was spreading it has now stopped spreading it” she said.
The first step will be to evaluate, among the 11 suspected cases, those that really correspond to transverse agenesis (the failure of the limbs to fully develop) of the upper limbs, the health agency said in a statement. All cases will then be analyzed and teams across multiple organizations will investigate what the affected families have in common.