With six babies with congenital heart disease born in the nation every day, medical groups and hospitals are promoting a blood oxygen test to detect critical heart defects that can help save lives.
Health authorities are also cautioning patients against respiratory viruses with the start of the fall season.
Wang Jou-kou (王主科), director of the pediatric cardiology department at National Taiwan University Hospital and president of the Taiwan Society of Pediatric Cardiology, said about eight to 10 of every 1,000 newborns have congenital heart anomalies.
Some of these defects are simple conditions, such as a small hole in the heart, or heart murmurs that might heal themselves as a child grows. However, some are critical defects requiring surgery straight after birth to avoid fatal consequences, Wang said.
While many baby deaths are caused by the more well-known sudden infant death syndrome, congenital heart disease might also be a cause, he added.
As part of awareness-raising efforts, the Cardiac Children’s Foundation Taiwan (CCFT) has invited 17 medical centers and hospitals to offer free tests for critical congenital heart diseases for newborns that are at least 24 hours old.
Wang said that a pulse oximeter measures the amount of oxygen in a baby’s blood in its right hand and lower limbs, which also helps detect congenital heart defects in newborns.
The US has added pulse oximetry screening for congenital heart disease to the general screenings for newborns, and those with abnormal results are sent to hospital for examination and treatment by a pediatric cardiologist, Wang said.
He added that he hopes hospitals in Taiwan can follow the US’ lead in popularizing the screening, or having it added to the uniform screenings for newborns.
Children with congenital heart diseases are also at a higher risk of developing serious complications when they catch a cold because of their weaker immune systems, Wang said, adding that the respiratory syncytial virus is present year-round in Taiwan and children are most susceptible to the infection as the seasons change, especially during the spring-to-summer and summer-to-fall shifts.
He said parents should help children avoid crowded, poorly ventilated public places.
Children aged below-one and with critical congenital heart diseases can have National Health Insurance-covered antibody injections, with a physician’s medical evaluation, to prevent respiratory viral infection. Each injection provides protection against the virus for up to one month and can help the child battle the peak respiratory virus seasons, Wang said.