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Illinois adds Spinal Muscular Atrophy to newborn testing

Illinois adds Spinal Muscular Atrophy to newborn testing

Ngozi Ezike

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, speaks at the Thompson Center in Chicago during the daily update on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic, Monday, March 30.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Every baby newly born in Illinois will be tested for Spinal Muscular Atrophy starting Monday, state health officials said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health said Spinal Muscular Atrophy, known as SMA, is a group of hereditary diseases that destroys motor neurons over time and leads to muscle weakness and atrophy.

“It is the number one genetic cause of death for infants," said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the department. “Early diagnosis of babies with SMA can lead to potentially life-saving interventions. By screening every baby born in Illinois, we hope to identify cases early so therapy can begin as soon as possible.”

The department said SMA affects about 1 in 11,000 births. Officials said the early screening can let treatment begin before an infant begins to show symptoms.

Federal authorities in 2018 added SMA to its list of recommended conditions that newborns be screened for. Illinois officials said it took some time to purchase new equipment, develop test methods and alter computer systems to provide laboratory results.

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