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Monday, 30 April, 2001, 07:59 GMT 08:59 UK
Cystic fibrosis screening for all
Baby
Screening can reveal if a baby has a genetic disorder
Screening services for cystic fibrosis and Down's syndrome are to be made available to all new mothers and pregnant women.

A package of initiatives to modernise neonatal and antenatal screening was announced on Monday by Public Health Minister Yvette Cooper.

The package includes:

  • national standards for screening
  • screening for cystic fibrosis to be offered to the parents of all new-born children
  • a network of pilot sites offering screening for health impairment
  • a network of counsellors to provide support and information for pregnant women and their partners about screening
  • new quality standards in screening for HIV, hepatitis, Down's syndrome, rubella and syphilis
  • By 2004 all pregnant women will be offered non-invasive Down's Syndrome tests

The average life expectancy for a cystic fibrosis patient is only 30 years.

Approximately 7,500 people in the UK have the inherited condition, in which the lungs produce far too much mucus, clogging the airways and making it hard to breathe.


So many children go undiagnosed at the moment, and although they are diagnosed eventually in that time they can suffer

Mark Barron, Cystic Fibrosis Trust
At present, only 20% of new-born babies in the UK are screened for cystic fibrosis.

New evidence from the US shows early screening can have significant benefits in the treatment and quality of life for babies who have the debilitating condition.

Mark Barron, communications manager for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, said the proposal for universal screening was "fantastic news".

He told BBC News Online: "So many children go undiagnosed at the moment, and although they are diagnosed eventually in that time they can suffer."

Mr Barron said babies diagnosed with cystic fibrosis could be given immediate treatment to minimise the effects of the condition.

This includes enzyme supplements to help them digest fat, and physiotherapy to keep the lungs clear of mucus.

Cystic fibrosis patients are also given antibiotics to prevent secondary lung infections.

Hearing tests

Within the next few months 20 pilot sites across the country will offer hearing screening for new-born babies.

The aim is to identify hearing impairments as quickly and accurately as possible.

Once again, there is evidence to suggest that babies whose hearing problems are identified early have better learning ability for the rest of their lives.

Ms Cooper said: "We recognise the great importance of children's health in this country and we know that there are significant health benefits in screening babies for cystic fibrosis, Down's Syndrome and hearing impairments.

"I am pleased to announce today that by introducing new screening programmes, counsellors and national standards, more women will have the opportunity to make choices about the screening services they want for their babies."

See also:

28 Jun 99 | Health
04 Oct 00 | Health
21 Sep 00 | Health
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