STATE — September is National Newborn Screening Awareness Month, which is dedicated to bringing attention to the important public health benefits of newborn screening. This screening can help prevent lifelong disabilities, even death, by identifying rare medical conditions early—enabling immediate medical treatment.
“New Jersey is a leader in protecting the lives of children with newborn screening,” said Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd. “Our state was among the first states to screen newborns and recently became the first state to mandate screening for critical congenital heart defects.”
Last year, Gov. Chris Christie signed first-in-the-nation legislation to protect the health of newborns from potentially life-threatening congenital heart defects by requiring all birthing facilities licensed by the Department of Health to perform pulse oximetry screenings a minimum of 24 hours after birth and on every newborn in its care.
New Jersey began infant screenings in 1964 with Phenylketonuria (PKU), a disorder that prevents the breakdown of an amino acid/protein. Currently, New Jersey mandates that all babies born in the state be screened for 54 specific genetic, metabolic, endocrine, and hemoglobin disorders, as well as hearing loss and critical congenital heart defects.
Within 48 hours of birth, a small blood sample, taken from the heel, is collected from every newborn in the state. This sample is analyzed for selected biochemical or genetic disorders so that, if needed, follow-up and medical treatment can be promptly started to prevent life long disabilities, including developmental disabilities, life threatening infections, and even death.
In the Department of Health, testing of newborn blood specimens is performed by the Newborn Screening Laboratory, in the Division of Public Health Infrastructure, Laboratories, and Emergency Preparedness, and abnormal results are reported to the Newborn Screening and Genetic Services Program, in the Division of Family Health Services, for appropriate follow-up. These two program’s staff work on Saturdays and holidays so that any abnormal results are reported as soon as possible to ensure that identified newborns quickly receive recommended additional testing and medical treatment.
Each year, approximately 1 out of every 340 babies born in New Jersey is found to have one of the disorders in the mandated newborn screening panel. In 2011, approximately 122,000 specimens were tested and more than 300 infants were confirmed to have one of the disorders. Since the program began, more than 5,700 newborns have been identified. These confirmed cases cover 41 of the 54 mandated conditions. Thanks to early identification and treatment, most of these babies have the best chance for surviving and thriving.
The Department also serves infants with developmental delays through its Early Intervention System. This program supports families with children from birth to age 3 who are in need of speech, physical therapy or other services necessary to achieve their full potential. Governor Christie has protected state funding in the budget to ensure that children with delays are identified early and referred to services. This past year over 21,000 infants and toddlers received services through the Early Intervention System.
To help ensure that your baby has his/her newborn screening results reported promptly:
- Choose a primary care provider or pediatrician before birth; make sure to give the hospital this doctor’s contact information. This information will save valuable time if your baby needs additional medical attention from a specialist.
- Make sure your phone number and address are up-to-date and provide this information to hospital and pediatrician.
- Ask if the newborn screening was performed on your baby before you leave the hospital, or make arrangements for your nurse midwife to collect the test after the baby is 24 hours old.
- Ask for the results of your child’s newborn screening during your two-week well baby checkup. Asking this question will serve as a reminder to the doctor to review the results, and will help you to be proactive in your child’s health.
For more information on newborn screening visit: www.newbornscreening.nj.gov.
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