Screening for Sickle Cell Disease: September 1, 2019

Years ago babies born with sickle cell disease would typically die within the first year of life. Newborns are screened for the disease at birth. Doctors say finding it early can save a child’s life.

Dr. Emad Salman, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, says while sickle cell disease is not a common diagnosis, it is a life threatening one. “Sickle cell disease can be seen from all babies from all ethnic backgrounds.”

Sickle cell disease is a blood condition that impacts a child’s immune system. Screening each newborn for sickle cell disease helps physicians identify the problem early. Babies who test positive are placed on antibiotics, like penicillin twice a day. “We found out in 1984 that by putting them on penicillin a majority of children survived. So, it was worth screening every single person,” said Dr. Salman.

Doctors were able to find that with penicillin, immunizations, and vaccines, they could lower the risk of infection and improve a child’s quality of life. “The impact of universal screening for sickle cell disease has made a huge difference. If you look at old literature sometimes up to 90 percent of babies with sickle cell disease would die within the first year. Now it’s almost unheard of,” said Dr. Salman.

Screening has helped save lives of children born with sickle cell disease, making it important for all babies to be screened for genetic defects at birth.