June 23, 2004
The lack of standardized newborn screening is responsible for the illness and death of thousands of infants every year. A new process called tandem mass spectrometry can detect about 40 rare but curable congenital diseases from a drop of blood in a baby's heel.
Few states have made such testing mandatory:
- Only 20 states' health departments offered tandem mass spectrometry for newborn screening in 2002, according to a 2002 U.S. General Accounting Office report.
- Only 13 states require its use, and only Mississippi mandates testing for all 40 of the treatable illnesses detectable by the machine.
- Although the 40 diseases detected by tandem mass testing are rare,
- taken together they appear in about 1 in 1,000 babies.In California, a bill was introduced in the state legislature that would make the testing mandatory for all infants regardless of parental consent. All states require some kind of testing for newborns, but the policies are a hodgepodge. California, for example, requires that newborns be screened for only four treatable diseases. Some states test without parental consent; others require it..
Many states were reluctant to expand newborn screening in the past because the tests were costly. Tandem mass spectrometry, however, uses only one $300,000 machine and costs about $50 to $80 per infant.
Source: Michael Waldholz, "A Drop of Blood Saves One Baby; Another Falls Ill," Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2004.
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