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Steps Outlined to Screen All Newborns for Heart Defects
Date:8/22/2011

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Aug. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Acting on 2010 U.S. Health and Human Services recommendations, a panel of pediatric and cardiac experts has outlined a strategy for routine screening of newborns to improve detection of congenital heart disease.

By measuring oxygen levels in newborns' blood before hospital discharge, doctors would be better able to identify the potentially lethal but often treatable heart condition, the experts said.

New Jersey will start screening for congenital heart disease (CHD) on Aug. 31 using a noninvasive test, called pulse oximetry.

"One percent of all newborns have congenital heart disease, and about one quarter have critical heart defects which require early intervention," explained study lead author Dr. Alex R. Kemper, an associate professor of pediatrics at Duke University in Durham, N.C. "And if they're not picked up in a timely way then the baby can even die."

The challenge, Kemper said, is that in the hospital nursery these children look like every other child. "It's hard to identify them. And that is also true even when women get mid-pregnancy ultrasounds. Some cases are picked up. But it can be very easy to miss a baby with a life-threatening congenital heart situation," he explained.

Congenital heart disease causes more deaths before age 1 year than any other birth defect. Universal screening would help identify defects early and improve survival rates, experts said.

As envisioned by Health and Human Services, screening will be instituted at the discretion of individual states, rather than federally mandated.

The new strategy, outlined online Aug. 22 in Pediatrics, addresses the development of national standards, implementation and follow-up procedures. The guidelines came out of a working group that met in January and included representatives from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College o
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