State health officials have released new data showing a rare birth defect in Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties are much higher than the national average.  Seven cases of the fatal birth defect anencephaly were reported in the three counties in 2013, which is higher than expected for the fourth consecutive year. The 2013 rate of 8.7 per 10,000 births is similar to the rate for 2010-12, and remains well above the national rate of 2.1 per 10,000 births. The Department of Health will convene an advisory committee to review options for further investigation and prevention.

Anencephaly is a rare neural tube birth defect in which a baby's brain and skull don't fully form in the first month of pregnancy. Babies with anencephaly die soon after they're born. The cause of the rare birth defect are not known.  Women can reduce the risk by taking folic acid.

The advisory committee will include national experts; staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; local and state health officials; and others to assess further investigation. State and local health officials will be holding listening sessions with the public to learn more about community concerns that might be related to anencephaly and other neural tube defects in the area.

More information can be found at the Department of Health website at