Good news for soon-to-be new parents, blood spot screening for Cystic
Fibrosis (CF) is now available to all newborn babies in the UK as part of the heel-prick test.
The most common life-threatening inherited disease in the UK, Cystic Fibrosis (CF) affects one in every 2,500 babies born here. Those born with CF are likely to suffer difficulties with breathing and digestion and are more susceptible to infections, inflammation, bone disease, diabetes, liver disease and fertility problems. They also face a lower life expectancy, with thirty-one years the current average for CF sufferers according to the UK's Cystic Fibrisis Trust.
However, as with many other diseases, early diagnosis can have a very significant impact on the health outlook of affected babies, and the new screening programme aims to identify those who do need help as quickly as possible. A baby diagnosed early with Cystic Fibrosis can be helped in terms of early treatments and therapies, dietary advice, preventative measures (such as separation from other CF sufferers where cross-infection is a risk) and support for the parents.
Screening for the disease has been routinely available in some parts of the UK before now, but coverage was patchy. Following the Government's espousal of the universal screening programme back in 2001, availability has now finally been rolled out across all regions of the UK.
What causes CF?
Cystic Fibrosis is caused by a faulty gene which interferes with the movement of salt around the body, leading to a build up of mucous in the internal organs.
Carrying one faulty gene of this type is quite common - about one in twenty-five people in the UK are passive carriers - but the disease itself occurs when both parents are carriers and a baby inherits a faulty gene from each parent. Not all babies born to two parents who carry the mutated gene will suffer from CF, however, there's a one-in-four chance of a baby inheriting the disease when both parents are carriers.
What do I need to know about the screening progamme?
- Screening for CF is free to all babies
- CF tests have been added in to the usual heel-prick tests that your baby has at one-week of age, so there is no extra test
- The heel-prick tests involve small samples of blood being taken from pinpricks on your baby's heel: The tests aren't compulsory, but they are straightforward and it makes good sense to take them