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UPDATED: March 13, 2012
Genetic Screening in Newborn Health Check to Prevent Hearing Loss: Lawmaker

Genetic screening should be included in compulsory health examinations of newborns to prevent hearing impairment, said a national lawmaker in Beijing Monday.

Gene-screening technology can help identify newborns vulnerable of hearing impairments so they can be treated as early as possible, said Guo Yufen, deputy to the 11th National People's Congress (NPC), at the ongoing annual parliamentary session.

In more developed parts of China, hearing screening is conducted on every newborn but the tests can only diagnose those with congenital hearing loss, not progressive hearing loss which might show up in the first few years, said Guo, also deputy head of the provincial health department of northwest China's Gansu Province.

Genetic screening, which tests infants' navel blood within three days after birth, can identify certain genes more vulnerable to hearing loss, she said.

Since hearing loss can be caused by the use of certain medicines and head injury, to identify people carrying such vulnerable genes can help and, when hearing loss does occur, doctors can treat it earlier, she said.

More than 10 provinces in China have combined traditional hearing screening with genetic screening and it has proved effective, she said.

China has about 20.04 million hearing-impaired population, among whom 3 percent are below seven years old, and the number of newborns suffering hearing loss has increased by about 30,000 annually, according to Guo.

"It is necessary to include the combined hearing and genetic screening in compulsory health check of newborns to prevent more tragedies," she said.

Guo has submitted a suggestion on this issue to the session.

(Xinhua News Agency March 12, 2012)

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