Improved screening test for infant iron deficiency

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: January 13th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

When it comes to health problems in newborns, you may not hear as much about iron deficiency… a severe lack of iron in the blood… as you do about heart disease or birth defects. But iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, and infants and toddlers are especially susceptible.

As many as one-fourth of all infants in the world have iron deficiency anemia. It affects nearly ten percent of American children under two years old.

Early detection and treatment are crucial because even mild iron deficiency can impair infant mental development.

Iron deficiency can be readily treated at reasonable cost, but doctors haven’t had a simple, reliable and practical screening test to detect it early enough. Now they might.

New research in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows a unique blood test detects iron deficiency in infants earlier and more accurately than the commonly used hemoglobin screening test. Hemoglobin is the iron-containing, oxygen-carrying molecule in red blood cells. In a study involving two-hundred healthy infants under a year old, the new test, called C-H-R, correctly identified more than eighty percent of the iron-deficient infants, compared with only twenty-six percent using conventional screening. The experimental C-H-R test measures hemoglobin content only in immature red blood cells, a subset of the entire population of red blood cells analyzed in the standard test.

Once confirmed in larger studies, these findings could change the preferred screening practices for early detection of infant iron deficiency.