New test to prevent hearing loss in newborns

A new genetic test has been made available in Brighton to help prevent hearing loss in vulnerable newborns.

The Royal Sussex County Hospital says the test will help identify newborn babies at risk from hearing loss if treated with a common antibiotic.

For some babies a single dose of the antibiotic gentamicin can sometimes cause severe irreversible hearing loss.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends gentamicin as the first-choice antibiotic treatment for neonatal infections.

The test, which involves taking a gentle cheek swab, can determine whether a critically ill baby has a single gene change that could cause permanent hearing loss if they are treated with gentamicin.

Neonatal registrar Dr Jodie Nguyen said the hospital admits around 450 new-born babies each year.

“Many will be unwell and require antibiotics. For those carrying this genetic variation, even a single dose of gentamicin can sometimes cause severe irreversible hearing loss,” she said.

“Until now, we have not been able to test for this gene prior to administering antibiotics because genetic testing takes at least a few days, and we must give antibiotics quickly – within one hour – in order for them to be the most effective against infection.”

Dr Cassie Lawn, consultant neonatologist and clinical lead at the trust, said: “These results can also provide important information for the rest of the family too as the gene is inherited down the maternal line.

“So, if it is detected in the baby, the mother and any siblings from the maternal side are also likely to carry the gene change and should also avoid gentamicin.”


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