ROCHESTER, N.H. (AP) – New Hampshire lags behind the rest of the region when it comes to testing newborns for a variety of diseases, but that could change soon.

State Medical Director William Kassler and the Department of Health and Human Services plan to ask the Legislature to expand the state’s newborn screening program to include all nine tests recommended by the March of Dimes.

The state currently tests infants for five metabolic disorders at birth, fewer than any other New England state. Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont are among 21 states that test for all nine disorders.

Kassler believes newborn screening is the cornerstone of public health and notes that most of the disorders detected by the test are easily preventable through diet or supplements.

“The result of not having newborn screening is you could have a child that would require costly, intensive care for the rest of its life. It only makes sense,” Kassler said.

Funding for additional screening would come not from the state’s general fund but from hospital and insurance companies, he said.

“Here we have a simple and inexpensive solution to a potentially devastating problem, and it’s time for all states to make newborn screening a top priority,” says Dr. Jennifer Howse, president of the March of Dimes.

Heidi and Brodie Reilly of Rochester know just how important the screening can be. Moments after birth, their daughter’s heel was pricked to provide a blood sample that revealed a disordered called phenylketonuria, more commonly known as PKU.

The condition can result in severe mental retardation if not treated, but can be regulated with a special diet.

“It was devastating; I cried and cried and cried,” said Heidi Reilly. “PKU is something people are still learning about and something my husband and I really didn’t know about. But after talking with the doctors and learning more about it, we found it’s not that big of a deal because they were able to diagnose it so quickly thanks to the screening.”

Dr. Walter Hoerman, the former mayor of Rochester and a pediatrician, called the state’s battery of current tests adequate, but said more screening could be done.

“We’re certainly doing the minimum right now, but newborn screening is something that is going to change drastically as technology continues to improve,” Hoerman said. “The only question you face when you look at expanding screening, there are a whole range of tests. Deciding which is the most cost-effective and beneficial for your state’s population is what takes work.”

Kassler and a task force he served on spent more than a year trying to make those determinations.

“What we decided is responsible. We could have pushed to add a whole number of tests, but discussed this issue and it doesn’t make sense to do every single test for conditions that have a very low rate of occurrence,” Kassler. “What we are recommending is cost-effective and improves the state’s longest-running public health program.”

AP-ES-07-18-04 1301EDT

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