CHICAGO – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich announced that today is the first day all newborns across Illinois will be screening for cystic fibrosis, a hereditary disease that affects mainly the lungs and digestive system, causing progressive disability. Dr. Damon T. Arnold, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, hosted a tour of the Illinois Department of Public Health laboratory in Chicago to highlight the start of the state’s screening.
“Screening newborns for cystic fibrosis allows doctors to diagnose the disease and begin treatment sooner. Adding this disease to the list we already screen for will help make sure that newborns get the treatment they need to live stronger, healthier lives,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
With the addition of cystic fibrosis, the state now screens for 37metabolic and other harmful or potentially fatal inherited disorders, making Illinois one of only 18 states that meet all the newborn testing recommendations of the American College of Medical Genetics and the March of Dimes.
“Cystic fibrosis is the most common life-shortening genetic disorder in the United States after sick cell disease,” Dr. Arnold said. “Newborns screened for cystic fibrosis benefit from early diagnosis and treatment, which can improve growth, lung function, reduce hospital stays and add years to life.”
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive system and other organs of the body. This can lead to chronic lung infections and difficulty in digesting food. Treatments include pancreatic enzyme supplements to help with absorption of calories and nutrients, high calorie and high fat dietary supplements and other treatments to clean the airway and improve lung function.
More than 10 million Americans are unknowing, symptom-free carriers of the defective cystic fibrosis gene and most are not aware of a family history of cystic fibrosis. It takes two copies of the gene, one from each parent, for a child to be born with cystic fibrosis. About 1,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S. and it is estimated 50 cases will be identified annually in Illinois.
“The Illinois Department of Public Health and the state of Illinois have acted to improve the health of hundreds of children by implementing universal newborn screening for cystic fibrosis,” said Dr. Susanna McColley, director, Children’s Memorial Hospital Cystic Fibrosis Center. “Research has shown that infants diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as newborns have better health than those diagnosed when they develop symptoms of cystic fibrosis. There is also a reduction of the cost of health care because many complications of cystic fibrosis can be prevented or lessened by early care and early detection. Newborn screening, along with the rapid advances in cystic fibrosis care, will lead to an increased length and quality of life for people with cystic fibrosis. I would like to acknowledge the leadership of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the March of Dimes, and to thank the Department of Public Health and the state of Illinois for implementing this important program.”
Research studies on the benefits of newborn screening for cystic fibrosis have shown that early diagnosis coupled with nutritional interventions can provide benefits, including improved height, weight and cognitive function. These studies also indicate early interventions and therapies may impact respiratory function and reduce hospitalizations.
In recent years, advances in cystic fibrosis treatment have improved health and quality of life, along with the median age of survival, which is now 37 years of age. For babies born with cystic fibrosis today, the chances for improved health quality and longevity are even greater.