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Screening for cystic fibrosis picks up 12 cases in first year

19:30 30/12/2019
From Flanders Today

Screening new-born babies in Flanders for cystic fibrosis resulted in 12 cases being identified during 2019, the first year the test has been offered. So far, no new cases of the condition appear to have slipped through the net.

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease that affects the lungs and digestion. Treatment options are improving all the time, so that people with the condition live longer and have a better quality of life. However, there is still no cure and the average life expectancy is only around 38 years.

Doctors usually spot cystic fibrosis in the first year of life, but early screening means that action can be taken before symptoms appear. This can slow progression of the disease, help the baby's lungs and digestive system develop normally, and reduce the severity of treatment required in the first years of the child's life. Life expectancy is also likely to improve.

The Flemish government introduced a test for cystic fibrosis at the beginning of 2019. It is carried out on blood samples taken under an existing population screening programme, so there is no additional distress for the babies involved. The samples are taken from the baby's hand 72-96 hours after birth, and are tested for 11 other congenital disorders.

Provisional results for the year show that 58,534 new-borns were screened, resulting in 39 results that needed further investigation. Twelve of these babies went on to be diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

Luc Régal, of the Flemish Centre for the Detection of Metabolic Diseases, in Brussels, said the results were positive. "The age for diagnosing cystic fibrosis has been brought forward to 26 days by the screening, far better than the target of two months."

He also noted that there were no cases of cystic fibrosis among new-borns that had not been picked up through screening, although it will take more time to be absolutely sure that none slipped through the net.

Health minister Wouter Beke was also pleased with the figures. "The results after the first year show that this was a good decision," he said.

Photo: Getty Images

Written by Ian Mundell (Flanders Today)