GUANGZHOU, China - A four-month-old girl received surgery to remove her 6-centimeter tail at a hospital in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, earlier this month.
The girl, who was diagnosed with spina bifida at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hospital of the Sun Yat-sen University, was born with the hairless, soft, pink tail, the Guangzhou Daily reported on Tuesday.
According to reports, the tail is boneless. The child has no genetic history of relatives who have been born with tails.
The child was born in June this year, and shocked the entire family when she came out with a tail on her buttocks.
Initially, her grandmother wanted a midwife or a doctor to remove it by cutting off its blood supply with a rope, but later retracted the request as they were cautioned that such hasty measures could damage the child.
Spina bifida, a birth defect affecting the spinal column, can result from genetic or environmental factors.
The tail may be related to the disease, although no previous clinical cases have been reported, Deng Xiaogeng, director of the pediatric surgery department of the hospital, was quoted by the newspaper as saying.
900,000 babies born with defects every year
900,000 babies born with defects every year
China has 900,000 new cases of birth defects every year, a report issued by the Ministry of Health said.
The high number of birth defects has become the second cause of newborn death in 2011, or 19.1 per cent of all deaths, the report said.
Birth defects, or congenital disorders, include at least 8,000 kinds of diseases, such as congenital heart disease, cleft palate, hydrocephalus and neural tube deformities, and those are the most common among all the defects.
About 5.6 per cent of newborns are affected by congenital disorders in China, which is close to the rate in developing countries worldwide, the report showed.
China has seen the rate of birth defects increase by more than 70 per cent between 1996 and 2010.
"The percentage of infant deaths associated with congenital disorders has also been rising on the mainland," said Fu Wei, deputy director of women and children's care and the community health department of the Ministry of Health.
Currently, 800,000 to 1.2 million babies are born with various birth defects each year on the mainland, accounting for 4 to 6 per cent of births, Deputy Minister of Health Liu Qian said at a recent news conference.
From 1996 to 2010, the rate of birth defects increased from 87.7 per 10,000 births to 149.9 per 10,000 births, according to the Ministry of Health.
Of the babies affected, around 30 per cent can be cured and 40 per cent would have deformities. The rest couldn't survive long after birth, said Zhu Jun, deputy director of the National Maternal and Child Health Surveillance Office.
She urged young couples to undergo premarital medical examinations, which help detect those at potential risk of having babies with particular genetic disorders.
"That should be the first fortress to curb birth defects," she said.
Checkups for couples recommended
Couples highly recommended to go for checkups
In February, media reports said Guangdong province would resume compulsory premarital checkups mainly to prevent birth defects.
However, local health authorities in Guangdong denied that it is compulsory, but they highly recommend couples have the checkups.
Nationwide, compulsory premarital medical checkups were halted in 2003 and many couples simply skipped them before getting married.
Local health administrations have tried different means to encourage premarital medical examinations like offering the service for free, said Minister of Health Chen Zhu at a conference on women and children's health last week.
As a result, the rate of checkups among couples has climbed to 31 per cent in 2010 from 2.9 per cent in 2005, statistics from the ministry showed.
"More efforts both in surveillance and intervention are needed to reverse the situation," said Zhu Jun. "Compared with industrial countries, Chinese newborns are hit relatively hard by birth defects."
In the United States, about 0.68 per cent of babies are born with defects, only a fraction of that in China.
Complex factors such as low awareness, insufficient consumption of folic acid among pregnant women, rising environment pollution, and unhealthy lifestyles are to blame, experts said.
In response, the government in 2009 initiated early intervention programs distributing free folic acid among pregnant women in rural areas to reduce neural tube defects.