Since June 2019, three cases of babies born with hand deformities have been registered in the Sankt Marien Hospital of Gelsenkirchen, a city in Western Germany. German Authorities have initiated an investigation to look into the unique cases.
The hospital had earlier come out with a statement that read, "In two of the affected children, the left hand was deformed. Their forearm is normal but they have underdeveloped left palm and fingers. The third child had a normal left hand and right forehand but the baby’s right palm and fingers were underdeveloped."
The hospital further confirmed that there was no similarity in ethnicity, social, or any cultural factors among the three babies. However, all three of them were from the same local area.
Sonja Liggett Igelmund- a midwife, based in Cologne, West Germany- was the first to bring the case in the limelight. She has further warned that more such incidents might have occurred. She said that she learned about the facts while talking to fellow midwives over online midwifery forums. She agrees that such deformities may occur, but it's rare. However, three cases over three months might indicate something bigger, according to her. "One midwife came across one case in her whole career. Three in three months is not normal," Sonja explained.
The hospital is of the opinion that such deformities of the limb happened due to infections or toxins of varied nature. Other possibilities may also include Constriction ring syndrome. This condition is caused when fibres from the amniotic sac themselves wrap around the fetus or the umbilical cord wraps itself around the limbs of the fetus.
The German health department of North-Rhine- Westphalia confirmed they take deformity cases very seriously and also plan to connect with all the other medical centers in the state to find out if there additional, similar cases of deformities have been observed. The health department is also mediating among the medical associations, the federal government, and the other federal states to establish an effective communication channel to probe with due care into the probable causes of such deformities.
Detecting deformity cases in Germany is a difficult task, as there is an absence of a centralized registration process for such cases. The health department will also evaluate if such a centralized registry is vital and will be the right way forward.
The recent cases in Germany remind of the thalidomide tragedy of the 1960s in Germany. A drug produced by Chemie Grünenthal, a German pharmaceutical company to mitigate morning sickness during pregnancy, caused thousands of stillbirths. Those who survived the exposure to the drug in the womb were born with limb deformities.
In October 2018 another case was reported in France, where eighteen babies were born with limb deformities. However, they were from three different geographical areas in France. The French health minister had warned that it might have occurred due to environmental issues