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It’s Spina Bifida Awareness Month – But What Is It?

October 20, 2021

October is Spina Bifida Awareness Month. What is it and why do we need an awareness month?

Spina bifida is a type of neural tube defect, which means it affects the spine. Each year, thousands of people in the United States are born with the condition. Some people  have such a mild condition that they don’t know they have it. Others have a more severe form that affects them physically and intellectually.

Recognized by Hippocrates

Spina bifida was first given its name in medical literature in the mid-1600s, although it was described as early as the fourth century by Hippocrates. Researchers don’t know for sure what causes it, but they do know that the pregnant person’s nutrition may play a role. Studies have shown that people who get low levels of folic acid from their diet are at higher risk of having babies with the defect. People who plan on becoming pregnant are encouraged to increase their folic acid intake, as well as zinc and vitamin B12, before they conceive. Since the spine is formed within the first month of pregnancy, women usually don’t yet know they are pregnant and can’t adjust their diet.

Awareness months teach the public about conditions they may never have heard of. Knowing about spina bifida and its connection with nutrition can encourage people to consume healthy diets before pregnancy occurs. Understanding what spina bifida is can also help families and friends if a baby is born with it.

Affects people from across all walks of life

Several famous people have spina bifida, including singer John Cougar Mellencamp. Most recently, people may have heard about the condition during the Paralympics, held earlier this year. Five-time Paralympian Matt Scott, the flag bearer for the U.S. team during the closing ceremony, was born with spina bifida. The basketball player and his team took gold this time around, after winning silvers in 2014 and 2018.

Learn more about spina bifida and sepsis

People with spina bifida are at higher risk of contracting infections than people who don’t have the condition. For instance, Matt Scott contracted an infection in 2018, which progressed to septic shock. He was in a coma for a week and remained in the hospital for four months.

Learn how and why this is the case in Sepsis and Spina Bifida, part of the Sepsis Alliance Sepsis and… library.