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The vast majority of newborns in the United States are screened for sickle cell disease, an inherited condition that gives red blood cells an abnormal shape. People with sickle cell disease have a defective form of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to organs and tissues throughout the body.
This defective hemoglobin, called hemoglobin S, causes blood cells to be stiff and inflexible. As a result, they cannot effectively carry oxygen to tissues throughout the body, resulting in pain and long-term organ damage.
To screen for sickle cell disease, a doctor or nurse places a few drops of a newborn baby’s blood, taken from a small heel prick, on a special card that is sent to a laboratory at the New York State Department of Health. The laboratory determines whether hemoglobin S or other abnormal types of hemoglobin are present in your baby’s blood.
A positive result means that hemoglobin S is present in your baby’s blood sample. However, additional blood tests are needed to confirm a diagnosis of sickle cell disease and to monitor your child’s health.