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Division of Research and Planning

South Carolina Birth Defects Program

What are birth defects?    
Birth Defects are defined as an abnormality of structure, function, or metabolism present at birth that results in physical or mental disabilities or death. Birth defects affect about 1 in 33 babies (120,000) born in the United States and contribute significantly to infant death, morbidity, and long term disability.1   It is estimated that approximately 1,800 occur yearly in S.C. Genetic and environmental factors, or a combination of these, can result in birth defects, but the cause of 70% of birth defects is unknown.2  The human, social and economic costs are immense.  For example, 30% of pediatric admissions to hospitals and 10-15% of adult admissions are due to birth defects and genetic disorders. 

What is the SC Birth Defects Program? 
Established in July 2006 under the South Carolina Birth Defects Act, the South Carolina Birth Defects Program (SCBDP) provides statewide active surveillance of all 9 categories of major structural birth defects recommended for monitoring by the CDC and the National Birth Defects Prevention Network. These categories include central nervous system, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, orofacial, genitourinary, eye, ear, gastrointestinal and chromosomal anomalies. The SCBDP monitors birth defects identified prenatally through age two for the purposes of:

  • determining rates and trends of birth defects
  • promoting effective referral of infants and families for appropriate services and care
  • developing public health strategies for the prevention of birth defects
  • conducting research on the causes, distribution and prevention of birth defects  

How does the SCBDP monitor birth defects in South Carolina?
Nurse Abstractors with expertise in perinatal issues, based regionally, collect comprehensive birth defects data from medical records and reports in every hospital in the state. Epidemiologists, Geneticists and other experts analyze the data.  The SC Birth Defects Advisory Council provides support and guidance for the work of the program. Vital partnerships include:

  • Greenwood Genetic Center: provides follow-up services to women with pregnancies affected by neural tube defects in order to prevent recurrence in later pregnancies
  • Baby Net: facilitates linkage to early intervention information and services for affected families
  • DHEC Vital Records and First Sound Hearing Screening Program share an integrated, electronic data system with SCBDP that is built to someday also include Newborn Metabolic Screening Program and Statewide Infant Mortality Review data.
  • Relationships with other public health entities, university-based researchers and advocacy groups to utilize birth defects data from surveillance to understand, prevent and treat birth defects in South Carolina.

Can birth defects be prevented?     
Some birth defects can be prevented. For example, 50-70% of major birth defects of the brain and spine (spina bifida and anencephaly) can be prevented by women taking 400 mcg of the B vitamin folic acid daily, starting at least 3 months before they become pregnant.3 Research indicates also that adequate folic acid may also decrease the occurrence of orofacial clefts and some cardiac defects.4 Reproductive age women should visit their health care provider before they become pregnant, in order to increase their chances of having a healthy baby.  For more information on prevention, please go to:

To learn more about birth defects data in South Carolina, please visit:

Birth defects surveillance is the key element in understanding the causes and discovering new methods for preventing and treating birth defects.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed 3/2009 
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Birth Defects: Frequently Asked Questions. March 21, 2006
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts about Folic Acid. Accessed 3/2009
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Impact of Folic Acid Fortification on Orofacial Clefts. Accessed 6/2009