Michigan celebrates Newborn Screening

September is the National 50th Anniversary of Newborn Screening and to recognize this significant public health achievement, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) joins national organizations, federal officials, statewide partners, and other states in celebrating the accomplishments of newborn screening in Michigan.

In 2012, 275 babies in Michigan were diagnosed with a disorder found through newborn screening and treated at special medical management clinics.

“Newborn Screening is truly a public health success story. Since Michigan began screening in 1965, more than 7,500 infants have been diagnosed, and their lives saved or improved through early treatment,” said Dr. Matthew Davis, Chief Medical Executive for the Michigan Department of Community Health.

Following development of a new screening test by Dr. Robert Guthrie, the first state-mandated newborn screening programs began in 1963 to find babies with a rare condition known as “PKU”.

When detected early and treated with a special diet, children with PKU lead a normal life. Fifty years later, more than 4 million newborns are screened annually in every state for at least 29 different genetic and metabolic conditions, hearing loss and critical congenital heart defects. Michigan’s newborn screening panel currently includes 54 disorders.

Newborn screening keeps rare conditions from stealing children’s lives.

Without screening, there are typically no red flags to alert families or physicians that a baby might become sick or develop disabilities. Ultimately these disorders can affect how the body breaks down food, fights infection, and may also impact brain development, hormones, blood cells, lungs or breathing.

“Birthing hospitals, midwives, primary care providers and medical specialists all work together with families and the Department of Community Health laboratory and follow-up program to ensure a successful newborn screening system. This year as we celebrate the nation’s 50th anniversary of newborn screening, we also want to recognize our own state’s accomplishments and thank the many partners who make this vital public health program such a success,” Dr. Davis said in a statement.

For very rare conditions like galactosemia to somewhat more common ones like cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia, newborn screening allows diagnosis and prompt treatment to prevent or lessen the serious effects of an underlying disorder.

Nationally, newborn screening identifies disorders in more than 12,000 babies each year.

September 2013 was also proclaimed Michigan Newborn Screening Awareness Month by Governor Rick Snyder.

Below are some questions and answers from the Michigan Department of Community Health regarding newborn screening.

When did Newborn Screening begin?

Newborn screening for a rare metabolic disease called PKU (phenylketonuria) began in 1965. PKU causes severe developmental delay and disability, but can be treated by limiting the amount of protein in the diet. Today, a child with PKU can have normal development when detected by Newborn Screening and treated early.

How many disorders can be found today?

The number of disorders on the Newborn Screening panel has increased over the years as new technologies and treatments became available. The screening panel now includes 50-plus disorders including hearing. If these disorders are not found and treated soon after birth, permanent disability, illness or death may result.

How many babies are found?

Each year, more than 200 babies, or about 1 in 500 to 600 births, are found to have one of the disorders. Over the years, nearly 4,000 Michigan babies have been diagnosed and received treatment as a result of Newborn Screening.

What is Michigan’s newborn screening law?

Michigan’s newborn screening law is part of the public health code. This law designates the state public health laboratory as a centralized site to perform Newborn Screening, and establishes a fee for testing. It allows blood specimens to be used for medical research under certain conditions, and also lets parents ask the hospital to draw a second specimen to keep for themselves.

How much does newborn screening cost?

The current cost is $98.08 per baby. This fee supports the laboratory costs of screening, follow-up, and medical management for infants and children affected by the disorders. Hospitals typically purchase a supply of newborn screening cards. The cost is included in the birthing and newborn nursery charges that are usually covered by insurance. The fee can be waived for families with financial hardship.

When is Newborn Screening done?

Whether a baby is born in the hospital or at home, Newborn Screening should be done between 24 and 36 hours after birth.

How is Newborn Screening done?

A few drops of blood are drawn from the heel. The blood sample is used to fill five circles on a filter paper card and allowed to dry. It is then sent to the state public health laboratory at the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) for testing. These samples are often called dried blood spots (DBS).

Why are five spots collected?

Five spots are usually collected to be sure there are enough for all the tests. Sometimes not all the spots are suitable for testing, so it helps to have more than are needed. In the event there is a positive (abnormal) test, the lab can double check the result with the extra spots. Having five spots available limits the number of newborns who need to have their blood drawn again.

What happens if my baby has a positive (abnormal) screen?

When there is a positive screen, parents will be contacted by their baby’s physician. Sometimes only a repeat screening test is needed. In other instances, the baby will be referred to a medical management center for a diagnostic work-up and treatment if needed. Specialists will be available to work with the family, explaining the condition and next steps that should be taken to assure the best possible health outcome for a baby.