WASHINGTON, Dec. 5 (Xinhua) -- Implementing mandatory policies to screen newborns for critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) can lead to a dramatic decrease in infant cardiac deaths, a U.S. study said Tuesday.
In eight U.S. states that mandated CCHD screening using a test called pulse oximetry, infant deaths from the disease decreased more than 33 percent compared with states without such policies, said the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In addition, deaths from other or unspecified cardiac causes decreased by 21 percent, it said.
"Screening newborns for critical congenital heart disease in every state, tribe, and territory will save lives and help babies thrive," Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in a statement.
The findings were based on an analysis of about 27 million U.S. births between 2007 and 2013.
During the study period, there were 2,734 deaths due to CCHD and 3,967 deaths due to other and unspecified causes.
The study showed that states that required their hospitals to screen newborns with pulse oximetry saw the most significant decrease in infant deaths compared with states without screening policies.
Voluntary policies or mandated policies not yet implemented were not associated with reductions in infant death rates.
Overall, CCHD screening nationwide could save at least 120 babies each year, said the study.
Currently, 47 U.S. states and Washington D.C. have mandatory CCHD screening policies in place and one additional state, California, requires screening be offered.
About one in every four babies born with a congenital heart defect has CCHD and will need surgery or other procedures in the first year of life, according to the CDC.
In the U.S., about 7,200 babies born each year have CCHDs.
Without screening by a pulse oximetry reading, some babies born with a congenital heart defect can appear healthy at first and be sent home with their families before their heart defect is detected, the CDC said.
Pulse oximetry is a simple bedside test to determine the amount of oxygen in a baby's blood and the baby's pulse rate. Low levels of oxygen in the blood can be a sign of a CCHD.