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Ther Drug Monit. 2010 Jun;32(3):305-10. doi: 10.1097/FTD.0b013e3181dca381.

Universal screening for prenatal alcohol exposure: a progress report of a pilot study in the region of Grey Bruce, Ontario.

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  • 1Division of Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


The main objective of this study is to evaluate the clinical utility of meconium analysis for fatty acid ethyl esters as a universal screening tool intended for the detection of newborns at risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. This will be accomplished by assessing the rate of voluntary participation in a nonanonymous neonatal screening program and by determining the logistics of implementing the necessary follow-up and interventions as part of routine care. Additionally, this study will determine the predictive value of fatty acid ethyl ester-positive meconium with regard to neurodevelopmental delays. This is an ongoing prospective cohort study. Written informed consent is sought from all Grey Bruce women delivering at participating birthing sites. Collected meconium samples are tested for fatty acid ethyl esters by headspace-solid-phase microextraction followed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Children with positive results are followed up through an existing public health program involving regular home visits and assessments of developmental milestones by a public health nurse. These children and matched control subjects also undergo neurodevelopmental testing at 3 and 18 months of age by a clinical psychologist using Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development. If delays are detected, the child is referred to diagnostic services and appropriate intervention programs. This study has been granted ethics approval and enrollment began in November 2008 at St. Joseph's Health Care in London, Ontario. The first positive case has been identified and the follow-up is currently being conducted by the public health unit. The successful completing of this study will reveal the population's willingness to participate in a neonatal screening program for prenatal alcohol exposure and determine the costs, feasibility, and utility of implementing such programs in clinical practice.

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