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Teratology. 2001 Jan;63(1):3-10.

Screening for fetal alcohol syndrome in primary schools: a feasibility study.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98105, USA.



This project was undertaken as a feasibility study to determine the possibility of screening for fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in early school-age children for epidemiological and interventional purposes.


All elementary schools in two counties in Washington State were asked to screen first graders for possible FAS. A child was screen positive if found to be growth deficient, to have certain specific facial abnormalities, or have a known history of substantial alcohol exposure in gestation. All screen-positive children were invited to "special diagnostic clinics" for final diagnosis and treatment planning.


In County A, virtually all students were screened. In County B only about 25% of children were screened. This difference was related to the number of schools that agreed to participate in the project and the methods employed by each county to obtain parental permission. In each county, only about one-half of the screen-positive children were seen in the special clinics for diagnostic considerations. Only one of the seven children found to have FAS had been diagnosed previously. The minimal prevalence of FAS in County A was 3.1 in 1,000 students. The minimal prevalence of FAS in County B could not be calculated. The most efficient component in the screening process leading to a diagnosis of FAS was finding the specific facial features of the disorder. The diagnosis of FAS was generally helpful in improving educational planning.


This study demonstrated that population-based FAS screening within a school system may be possible, but participation is dependent on local trust and understanding of the project before its inception within the schools and the community at large.

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