State health officials announced Tuesday the state will expand its testing services of newly born babies from seven disorders to a total of 29, as recommended by the American College of Medical Genetics. The disorders are treatable if detected early.

ansas embarks on a program July 1 that will take the state from among the bottom ranks to the top in terms of screening newborns for diseases that can cause lifelong health problems, mental retardation or even death.
State health officials announced Tuesday the state will expand its testing services of newly born babies from seven disorders to a total of 29, as recommended by the American College of Medical Genetics. The disorders are treatable if detected early.
With the $3.5 million initiative, Arkansas will join the 19 states and Washington, D.C., that currently require testing newborns for 29 genetic disorders.
"The newborn screening expansion is giving Arkansas parents and their children a chance at a healthier start in life," Dr. Paul Halverson, state health department director, said at a news conference at the March of Dimes office.
Hospitals statewide are participating in the initiative. After a birth, blood will be collected using a needle prick to the baby's heel. The blood sample is sent to the state Health Department laboratory in Little Rock, which will conduct the tests and notify the hospital and the mother's primary-care physician of the results.
A positive test result does not necessarily mean the baby has a disorder and further tests will be conducted to determine the diagnosis. Of 40,000 babies born each year in Arkansas, about 75 will test positive.
"There's no risk to babies. Most likely the test results will be normal," Halverson said.
The fee for the screening — $89.25 up from $14.93 — will be built into the hospital billing.
Women who deliver at home can arrange beforehand for the screening with the help of local health professionals, said Dr. Richard Nugent, chief of the department's family health branch.
"It is so, so important to get your baby screened," he added.
Arkansas currently tests for phenylketouria (PKU), galactosemia, sickle cell anemia, congenital hypothyroidism and hearing loss. Early detection and treatment prevents severe health problems or relieves these disorders.
Holly Johnson of Jacksonville said her daughter, Sarah Shillcutt, was a healthy, happy 12-year-old because of the state's screening program. Sarah stood quietly alongside her mother while Johnson explained to news reporters that screening found Sarah had PKU, which can cause mental retardation and permanent brain damage if left untreated.
Doctors began treatment and Sarah is doing fine today, her mother said.
Halverson said more affordable technology and the state's new public health lab were among the circumstances that allowed for the expanded program. The state Legislature approved the expansion last year and the state Board of Health approved revised regulations Nov. 1 for testing newborns.
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On the Net:
Arkansas Health Department http://www.arnewbornscreening.com
March of Dimes http://marchofdimes.com/nbs