Thursday, October 1, 1998 Published at 23:02 GMT 00:02 UK
Pesticide link to eye abnormalities
Babies born in rural areas are twice as likely to have eye deformities
Pesticides may explain why babies born in rural areas are twice as likely to have eye abnormalities, according to a new study.
Research published in the British Medical Journal shows children are more likely to be born with no eyes (anophthalmia) or very small eyes (microphthalmia) in rural areas than in urban settings.
However, despite earlier media reports, scientists found no evidence of any cluster of cases.
The study of children born between 1988 and 1994 shows no prevalence of cases in any particular part of the country and no link with socio-economic deprivation.
One of the researchers, Dr Helen Dolk from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the study suggested pesticide could explain the figures for rural areas.
"We would have to take the rural findings further. There could be a link to pesticides, among other causes," she said.
"We need to study what other countries find in terms of rural prevalence and to look at other time periods," she added.
A recent study in Italy showed no relationship between eye malformations and the use of pesticides.
However, Dr Dolk said this was fairly broad-based and did not compare rural and urban areas.
She explained the lack of research on the role of pesticides by the fact that the eye malformations were so rare.
"You need a very big population or a long time period," she stated.
Researchers in Scotland are currently doing a small case study of the impact of pesticides and genetic factors.
There is good evidence that genes play a role in eye abnormalities.
Dr Dolk said her research team had tried to discount obvious cases where eye abnormalities could be caused by defective genes.
However, she added that it was "highly likely" that some of the cases in the study had a genetic explanation.
"Genetics does play a part, but there could be an environmental trigger which causes a genetic reaction," she said.
Dr Dolk said there were many other possible explanations for anophthalmia and microphthalmia.
Most study up until now has focused on maternal infection, including rubella and women who suffer hypothermia and fever during pregnancy.
Some research has also been done into the role of alcohol and solvents.