What is Newborn Screening?
Newborn screening is an important part of a baby’s care. It is a state-run public health service that ensures all babies are screened for certain conditions that can cause serious health problems. Many babies born with these conditions do not show any signs at birth and appear healthy. In fact, many have no family history of the condition.
Over 60 different conditions can be detected through newborn screening. For babies born with these serious, but treatable conditions, newborn screening allows them to receive a diagnosis and treatment as early as possible. Newborn screening can change a baby’s life by helping health professionals make a diagnosis early and begin treatment before serious problems develop.
- Nearly 4 million babies born in the United States receive newborn screening.
- Almost 1 in 300 babies has a condition that can be detected through newborn screening.
- Newborn screening usually happens when a baby is between 24 and 48 hours old.
- In the United States, all states require newborn screening, but not every state screens for the same conditions.
Newborn Screening and SCID
Babies born with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) appear healthy at birth but are unable to fight infections. The newborn screening blood test can show if a baby has a low number of T cells, a sign that a baby may have SCID. T cells are a type of white blood cell that are critical in fighting off infections. A lack of T cells is essential to diagnose SCID but may occur in other health conditions.
Wisconsin, in 2008, followed by Massachusetts, in 2009, performed pilot programs to adopt the T cell receptor excision circle (TREC) test to detect low T cells in a baby, an indicator for SCID. The Immune Deficiency Foundation (IDF), the parent organization for SCID Compass, played an important role in advocating for all states to include SCID in their newborn screening programs. IDF led a multi-year campaign to raise public awareness about SCID and to increase early detection and treatment through newborn screening. Through these efforts, as of December 1, 2018, all 50 states now screen for SCID.
The Three Parts of Newborn Screening
Newborn screening has three different parts: the blood test or heel stick; the hearing screen; and the pulse oximetry test. These tests all happen within 24 to 48 hours after birth.
- The blood test or heel stick - determines if a newborn might have one of many serious health conditions. A small blood sample is taken from a baby’s heel, or sometimes by drawing blood through a vein, and placed on a newborn screening card. The newborn screening card is then sent to a state laboratory for analysis.
- The hearing screening - determines if a newborn might have hearing loss. Two different tests can be done for a hearing screen. Both tests involve earphones or earbuds to check the baby’s hearing, usually while the baby is asleep.
- The pulse oximetry test - determines if a newborn might have certain heart conditions. A painless sensor is placed on the baby’s skin to monitor the amount of oxygen in their blood.