Early Detection Prevents Disease Damage

More than 97% of newborn screenings specimens are received in the laboratory within 72 hours of collection at South Texas Health System McAllen.

As one of the top hospitals in Texas to get these tests done, our system recognizes that early detection of these diseases will prevent disease damage to our newborn population. It is also important that this test be done in the hospital. Otherwise, the infant runs the risk of not getting outside testing and necessary care.

The newborn screening program is a Texas Department of State Health Service mandatory requirement (Health and Safety Code, Chapter 33) testing of all newborns which will test infants for 29 different medical conditions. Even if the baby looks healthy, he or she is screened because some conditions cannot be seen by simply looking. The test requires a blood sample by performing a heel stick shortly after birth and a second sample is collected at one to two weeks of age. The blood is put on a blood spot card and these cards are sent to be tested at the Texas Department of Health Services. These results are sent to the baby’s pediatrician within two weeks. If the results are outside of the expected range, the newborn screening program clinical care coordination group will follow up with a healthcare provider.

This program is time sensitive and very important to the infant’s health in identifying treatable conditions before the baby presents with clinical symptoms or experiences irreversible damage to their body. The program first began by detecting a genetic, treatable disorder called Phenylketonuria (PKU). Thanks to great success in detection, the program spread throughout the US and the world. The test for PKU tests the baby’s ability to process phenyalanine which is found in protein and sweeteners and can accumulate in the blood and tissues of a baby with PKU resulting in brain damage. This can be prevented when placing babies with PKU on a early special diet. After this early success, many other conditions have been added to that screening that include amino acid disorders such as PKU, fatty acid disorders, disorders of the endocrine system such as hypothyroidism important in physical and mental development, conditions of the blood such as sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis, congenital heart disease and immunodeficiency. Hearing screening is also part of the testing included and is best done before leaving the hospital after birth.

There is some debate about adding even more diseases to the list, but that makes the overall program cost prohibitive, especially for states with tight budgets. There are newborn screening resources from the Texas department of State Health Services to guide parents who want to learn more.

If the baby’s screening tests show any abnormal results, parents should work with their pediatrician to get immediate follow-up testing without any delay. Treating these conditions early by medication and/or change in diet can prevent serious irreversible brain damage, organ damage and death.