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For Release:  October 3, 2013 - Pamela Williams, Office of Communications - 405/271-5601

Oklahoma Celebrates 50 Years of Life-Saving Newborn Screening

Did you know that just a few drops of blood can save a baby’s life? When a baby is born, five drops of blood from a prick of the newborn’s heel is used to screen for 53 rare disorders. For babies who test positive for one of these conditions, rapid identification and treatment can make the difference between health and disability, or even life and death.

This year Oklahoma is celebrating 50 years of life-saving newborn screening that first began in 1963, when Oklahoma initiated screening for phenylketonuria (PKU). Every year approximately 53,000 infants in Oklahoma are screened for disorders that cannot be detected through a routine physical examination by a physician. Utilizing blood spot screening, the Oklahoma Newborn Screening Program identifies 90 to 100 infants annually who, through early detection and appropriate intervention, can live healthier, productive lives.

This year a new condition, Critical Congenital Heart Disease, was added to Oklahoma’s recommended panel of disorders identified through newborn screening. Effective July 1, 2013, “Fayelen’s Law” requires every birthing hospital in Oklahoma to perform a pulse oximetry screen on every infant in its care prior to discharge from the hospital. The pulse oximetry screen tests the infant for critical congenital heart defects using a simple, non-invasive point of care screen that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. Early identification of heart defects provides an opportunity for the infant to receive life-saving surgery or catheter intervention. This new testing is a major accomplishment for Oklahoma and it will help save and improve many lives. 

“Newborn screening has demonstrated its effectiveness in reducing infant mortality and morbidity as well as improving outcomes for infants and families. We are pleased that Oklahomans continue to value newborn screening by adding much needed screening services to improve the health of our state’s infants,” said Sharon Vaz, director of Screening and Special Services at the Oklahoma State Department of Health. “Oklahoma has made great strides in newborn screening over the last 50 years and will continue to evolve and change as needs arise.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Newborn screening is one of the nation’s most successful public health initiatives with over 4 million U.S. newborns screened nationally each year for certain genetic and metabolic conditions, hearing loss, and critical congenital heart disease.”  Adding to this sentiment is the Association of Public Health Laboratories, which states, “Legislation will change, and the health care system will change.  Even the filter paper may be replaced by some other method.  What will stay the same for the next 50 years is the will to protect our most vulnerable newborns.”

For additional information on the 50th anniversary of newborn screening, visit http://www.50yearssavingbabies.org. For additional information on the Oklahoma Newborn Screening Program, visit http://nsp.health.ok.gov



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