Arkansas health board plans to speed blood tests that identify disorders in newborns

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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Arkansas health leaders are trying to reduce the time it takes to determine if babies have disorders that require immediate treatment.

The state health board preliminarily approved changes to newborn blood-screening regulations, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Friday (http://bit.ly/1rhg6kV ).

Those rules would require hospitals to send the babies' blood samples to the state laboratory within one business day of collection. Current rules allow facilities to wait up to 48 hours before sending them.

An Arkansas legislative committee will review the rules, and if they are approved, the regulations will return to the Arkansas Board of Health for a final vote.

States across the nation are trying to speed the pace of infant blood screens, said Glen Baker, director of the Arkansas Department of Health's Public Health Laboratory.

"It surfaced as a problem several months ago," Baker said. "They started looking at it and found that in many states, samples were not being submitted in a timely manner."

Health professionals said the more quickly screens are completed, the more quickly doctors can start treating preventable diseases that could cause disability or death.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported serious delays in infant blood screening across the country in November.

One baby's blood sample in Arkansas was not tested until 3 1/2 weeks after his birth in 2011, according to the Wisconsin newspaper. The Paragould baby was then diagnosed with galactosemia, a treatable disorder that prevented him from digesting a sugar found in both breast milk and traditional formula.

By the time the test results came back the damage had already been done. The now-toddler has trouble eating and speaking.

The Arkansas health department has been working with hospitals to educate them about the importance of submitting the blood samples quickly, spokeswoman Kerry Krell said.

She said the department is closely monitoring the time it takes the screens to be collected and submitted to the lab.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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