AHS adds sickle cell disease screening for newborns

By Charles Lefebvre
June 27, 2019 - 6:07pm Updated: June 27, 2019 - 7:26pm


MEDICINE HAT, AB — Alberta Health Services is taking steps for early diagnosis of sickle cell disease.

The province recently added sickle cell disease testing for newborns during routine blood screening.

The samples are collected within two days of a child’s birth, and are sent for testing in Edmonton, with results known in two weeks.

Sickle cell disease causes red blood cells to mutate, developing a crescent moon shape. The red blood cells can get trapped in blood vessels, and can cause organ damage if left untreated.

The disease is passed on through parents. While it affects everyone, it is more common in people of African, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Asian descent.

Dr. Michael O’Connor, a lab physician with the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital, says early detection can help save lives.

“Once that's identified, then there are changes in healthcare for that baby that can happen, and that hugely improve that baby's quality of life, or even the chance of the baby surviving,” he said.

According to the Sickle Cell Disease Association of Canada, Alberta is the eighth province and territory to include sickle cell disease in newborn screening programs. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are the remaining provinces without newborn screening for the disease.

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