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Newborn screening for diseases, defects began 50-years ago

MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - It was 50 years ago when the nation’s first newborns were screened at birth for a host of hidden diseases. Wisconsin has been testing babies almost as long.

The State Hygiene Lab in Madison tested its first newborns in 1965 for PKU – a disease that prevents the digesting of a chemical found in foods with protein.

Now, the state lab can look at just five drops of a baby’s blood, and determine if the infant has one of 44 rare diseases – some of which can kill a child in a matter of days.

Almost 67,000 newborns in Wisconsin were tested by the state lab last year.  Defects were found 117 youngsters.

The most common discovery is congenital hypothyroidism. It leaves the body without enough thyroid hormone – and if it’s not treated, it can lead to poor mental and physical growth.

Meanwhile, two state lawmakers are continuing their effort to make hospitals administer the Pulse Oximetry test, to check for congenital heart defects.

Assembly Republican Joel Kleefisch of Oconomowoc and Senate Republican Jerry Petrowski of Marathon say only about a quarter of hospitals offer the test now.

Their bill was proposed in April. It could come up when lawmakers return to Madison this fall.