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Conjoined Births: Why So Many? (VIDEO)

Conjoined Twins

First Posted: 12/27/11 01:25 PM ET Updated: 12/27/11 09:13 PM ET

The birth last week of Jesus and Emanuel -- conjoined twins from northern Brazil with two heads on one body -- became a worldwide sensation.

However, if more conjoined twins are popping up in the news recently, it's not by accident. The ability to keep children born with birth defects alive has improved, and so has the ability to instantaneously spread news of an unusual birth, no matter where in the world it happens.

Marc Hartzman, an expert on anatomical wonders and author of "American Sideshow," says such births -- still quite rare -- are more commonplace than ever.

"It seems like every two weeks there is one," Hartzman told HuffPost Weird News. "You don't hear as much about legless people or people with hypertrichosis [werewolf syndrome]. Of course, that's even rarer."

Earlier this year. Sueli Ferreira, 27, gave birth to a two-headed baby in the Brazilian state of Paraiba, but it died a few hours later because of lack of oxygen to one of the child's heads.

In addition, there were conjoined babies born in Chicago, China and Chile, according to Emaxhealth.com.

In total, conjoined twins are estimated to occur once in every 200,000 births, according to estimates by the University of Maryland.

Dr. James Goodrich, a pediatric neurosurgeon at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York, says modern medicine has given conjoined twins a better chance of survival and modern media has given such births a higher profile.

"In the old days, conjoined twins were considered freaks whose pictures were printed on postcards," Goodrich told the Huffington Post. "In the age of the Internet, it's hard to hide them. Plus, we're better at keeping them alive."

PHOTOS: CONJOINED TWINS (Story Continues Below)

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  • Two-Headed Baby Born In Brazil

    Jesus and Emmanuel, a two-headed baby born in Northern Brazil, has doctors wondering if they can be separated since they share the same heart.

  • Conjoined Twins Separated In Chile

  • Surgeons Prepare To Separate Conjoined Twin Toddlers

    Conjoined twins Angelica (R) and Angelina Sabuco (L) play during a press conference at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford on October 31, 2011 in Palo Alto, California. The Subaco twins, who are two, were connected at the chest and abdomen before separation surgery lasting between 6 and 8 hours followed by three hours of reconstructive surgery for each girl.

  • Abigail And Brittany Hensel

    Although Abigail and Brittany Hensel are 21-year-old dicephalic parapagus twins from New Germany, Minn. Each has a separate head, but their bodies are joined. Although it looks like one body with two heads, several vital organs are doubled up, and Abigail and Brittany each have a separate heart, stomach, spine and spinal cord.

  • Chinese Conjoined Twins Readied For Separation

  • Conjoined Twin Girls In China

    These conjoined twin girls were born May 9, 2011 in a hospital in Suining, a city in southwest China's Sichuan province. Born with a single body and two heads, they weighed 9 lbs. and measured 1.64 feet at birth.

  • Conjoined Twins From Jordan Successfully Separated

    Amjed and Mohammad Taim, conjoined twins who were born sharing a liver and other tissues, were successfully separated on April 29, 2010 in a seven-hour operation at King Abdulaziz Medical Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. A team of Saudi doctors led by the country's health minister performed the surgery, which was paid for by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.

  • Afghan Baby Boy With Headless Twin

    An Afghan baby boy with his headless conjoined twin attached at the chest lies on a bed at the main hospital in northern city Kunduz on September 14, 2009. The otherwise healthy infant was born on September 10 with the torso, legs and hands of male a twin attached.

  • Chinese Girls Joined At The Stomach

    Medical personnel attend to a pair of newborn Chinese twin girls joined at the stomach, at a hospital in Beijing on August 14, 2009, as doctors plan how to separate them. Ninety percent of conjoined twins are girls, with the rare condition occuring in approximately one in 100,000 births when the single egg from which identical twins develop fails to divide properly after conception.

  • Three-Month-Old Conjoined Twins Banya and Barsha From Bangladesh

    Three-month-old cojoined twins Banya (L) and Barsha are pictured at the Bangabandhu Medical College Hospital in Dhaka on July 22, 2008. Surgeons in Bangladesh said they were preparing to separate three-month-old conjoined twins despite similar attempts here in the past leading to the deaths of one or both children. Banya and Barsha were joined at the stomach and chest but have separate heads and limbs.

  • Conjoined Twins X-Ray

    This image provided by Le Bonheur Children's Hospital shows an MRI scan of a set of conjoined twins that were successfully separated at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis on Aug. 29, 2011 in Memphis.

  • British Twins Attached At Head

    Rital and Ritag Gaboura before they were successfully separated at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in August. They were born in Sudan with the tops of their heads stuck together. Twins born joined at the head -- known as craniopagus twins -- occur in about one in 2.5 million births and successful attempts to split them are rare.

  • Separated Conjoined Twins Celebrate 10th Birthday

Case in point: Goodrich points to some conjoined twins born in the Philippines who were able to survive once they were able to get on drugs that could help their hearts.

"Heart failure is a big concern in many of these babies," he said. "One will be hypotensive and the other will be hypertensive, so they need to be on drugs that will get them to normal before surgery can be considered."

Goodrich says the heart will be a concern with Jesus and Emmanual, because while each boy has his own brain and spinal cord, they share all other organs, including the heart, lungs and liver, according to news.ninemsn.com.au.

"One heart could handle both brains, but it won't be easy," Goodrich said. "The brain takes a lot of blood. What often happens is that there is one brain more dominant and, when you can't separate, the more dominant brain is saved."

There are many types of "conjoinment," but the twins' condition is known as "dicephalic parapagus." It's extremely rare and because they share the same body, separating them is not possible, according to the Daily Mail.

Despite the difficulties that lay ahead, the director of the hospital where Jesus and Emmanual were born, Claudionor Assis de Vasconcelos, told the Brazilian newspaper O Povo that that the babies are healthy and nursing and insists the mother, despite her initial surprise, is not distraught.

"On the contrary, the baby was received with much happiness by the family," he said.

Regardless of whether there really is an increase in the number of conjoined babies being born or not, Hartzman says the fascination that surrounds them will stay as strong as ever.

"It really is the most fascinating human anomaly," he said, "because it's so hard for most people to imagine having someone connected to them every waking moment."

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