Background: Prevalence and characteristics of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and total fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) were studied in a second sample of three South African rural communities to assess change. Methods: Active case ascertainment focused on children with height, weight and/or head circumference ≤25th centile and randomly-selected children. Final diagnoses were based on dysmorphology, neurobehavioral scores, and maternal risk interviews. Results: Cardinal facial features, head circumference, and total dysmorphology scores differentiated specific FASD diagnostic categories in a somewhat linear fashion but all FASD traits were significantly worse than those of randomly-selected controls. Neurodevelopmental delays were significantly worse for children with FASD than controls. Binge alcohol use was clearly documented as the proximal maternal risk factor for FASD, and significant distal risk factors were: low body mass, education, and income; high gravidity, parity, and age at birth of the index child. FAS rates continue to extremely high in these communities at 9-129 per 1000 children. Total FASD affect 196-276 per 1000 or 20-28% of the children in these communities. Conclusions: Very high rates of FASD persist in these general populations where regular, heavy drinking, often in a binge fashion, co-occurs with low socioeconomic conditions.
Keywords: South Africa; alcohol abuse; binge drinking; children with FASD; fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD); maternal risk for FASD; microcephaly; prenatal alcohol use; prevalence.