Did you know that September is Newborn Screening Awareness Month? Throughout the month, parents, healthcare providers, organizations, and government officials will be busy raising awareness about the importance of newborn screening, something that has saved numerous lives over the years. But what is newborn screening exactly, and when did it begin playing such a big role in newborn care?
What Is Newborn Screening?
For starters, newborn screening is a health program that tests newborn blood for more than 50 different conditions that are rarely noticeable to the naked eye at birth. Oftentimes, infected infants may seem nothing short of healthy, but left untreated, these conditions can cause serious and life-threatening disabilities. Fortunately, newborn screening, which is typically done within an infant’s first 24 to 48 hours, is able to detect otherwise treatable conditions, like PKU, a disorder that prevents the body from processing the protein building block phenylalanine. If left untreated, PKU can result in severe developmental and intellectual disabilities. Screening ensures conditions like PKU are caught in time to treat them.
Dr. Robert Guthrie invented the test back in 1963 after he and a colleague published a medical paper titled “A Simple Phenylalanine Method for Detecting Phenylketonuria in Large Populations of Newborn Infants.” Guthrie’s findings were revolutionary and drastically changed the way that doctors approached newborn care. For the first time in history, doctors could test and treat newborns for conditions before symptoms even showed up. Shortly after the paper was published, states began passing laws requiring the PKU test.
How is the screening done? Well, medical professionals use a “heel stick” to draw blood and collect it on sterile filter paper. Other screenings are also common and might include a hearing test and an oxygen levels test.
How newborn screening saved baby Rebecca on page 2