Objectives: This study determined the characteristics of fetal alcohol syndrome in a South African community, and methodology was designed for the multidisciplinary study of fetal alcohol syndrome in developing societies.
Methods: An active case ascertainment, 2-tier methodology was used among 992 first-grade pupils. A case-control design, using measures of growth, development, dysmorphology, and maternal risk, delineated characteristics of children with fetal alcohol syndrome.
Results: A high rate of fetal alcohol syndrome was found in the schools--40.5 to 46.4 per 1000 children aged 5 to 9 years--and age-specific community rates (ages 6-7) were 39.2 to 42.9. These rates are 18 to 141 times greater than in the United States. Rural residents had significantly more fetal alcohol syndrome. After control for ethnic variation, children with fetal alcohol syndrome had traits similar to those elsewhere: poor growth and development, congruent dysmorphology, and lower intellectual functioning.
Conclusions: This study documented the highest fetal alcohol syndrome rate to date in an overall community population. Fetal alcohol syndrome initiatives that incorporate innovative sampling and active case ascertainment methods can be used to obtain timely and accurate data among developing populations.