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Keywords:

  • Newborn Screening;
  • Guthrie Cards;
  • Biomarkers;
  • Alcohol;
  • Pregnancy

Background

Accurate confirmation of prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) is required as a diagnostic criterion for the majority of children adversely affected by PAE who do not manifest the physical features associated with fetal alcohol syndrome. A number of ethanol biomarkers have been used to assess PAE, often with suboptimal results. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the feasibility and cost of PAE screening in newborns by measuring phosphatidylethanol (PEth) in dried blood spot (DBS) cards.

Methods

The feasibility of collecting an additional DBS card during routine newborn screening and the background prevalence of PAE were evaluated in a de-identified sample of newborn children delivered at the University of New Mexico Hospital. Electronic orders to collect DBS cards from newborns who continue to bleed after the routine newborn screen, glucose, or hematocrit testing were initiated for all infants delivered during a 4-week time frame. Specimens were sent to a contract laboratory for PEth analysis by liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry. A cost analysis was conducted to compare the cost of PAE screening by PEth in DBS versus PEth in conventional blood specimens and by meconium fatty acid ethyl esters.

Results

From 230 collected cards, 201 (87.4%) had at least 1 full blood spot (amount sufficient for PEth analysis), and 6.5% had PEth >20 ng/ml indicative of potential PAE in late pregnancy. PAE screening by PEth in DBS is logistically simpler and less expensive compared with 2 other screening approaches.

Conclusions

These results indicate that screening for PAE in DBS cards is a feasible procedure and that a majority of infants have enough blood after the routine heel prick to fill an additional card. Moreover, screening by PEth analysis from DBS cards is cost-efficient. The acceptability of such screening by parents and corresponding ethical issues remain to be investigated.