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J Pediatr. 1991 Apr;118(4 Pt 1):546-54.

Neonatal screening for sickle cell disease: a cost-effectiveness analysis.

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Department of Medicine, New England Medical Center, Boston, MA 02111.



To determine the cost-effectiveness of screening newborn infants for sickle cell disease.


We developed a decision model that examined two strategies: (1) screening neonates and administering penicillin to infants found to have sickle cell disease in the hope of preventing pneumococcal sepsis, and (2) not screening but administering penicillin to infants after symptoms of sickle cell disease develop. The model calculates the cost-effectiveness of these strategies during the first 3 years of life. We applied the model to three prototypic populations of neonates--black, nonblack with a relatively high prevalence of hemoglobin S genes, and nonblack with a low prevalence of hemoglobin S genes.


We obtained from the published literature the effectiveness and risk of penicillin prophylaxis, the risk of pneumococcal sepsis, and the probability that in infants not screened the development of symptoms would lead to the discovery of sickle cell disease within the first 3 years of life; we used the published literature and the Hardy-Weinberg law to determine the prevalence of sickle cell disease. We used actual variable costs of screening, antibiotic prophylaxis, and hospitalization for pneumococcal sepsis or anaphylaxis.


Screening and then treating affected black infants costs only $3100 more per life saved than not screening. Screening nonblack populations with a high prevalence of hemoglobin S genes would cost $1.4 million per life saved, and screening low prevalence populations would cost $450 billion per life saved.


Screening black infants is very worthwhile, but screening populations in which the hemoglobin S gene is rare is unjustified.

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