Genetic testing could prevent childhood deafness

Pregnant women should be screened for gene defect that causes child deafness

One in 500 children have a genetic mutation which puts them at high risk of deafness  if prescribed certain antibiotics, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine and reported in today’s Telegraph.

Problems arise when treatment is urgent and there isn’t time to wait for the result of gene testing before administering the antibiotics – often given to premature and very sick babies.

Aminoglycoside antibiotics are used to treat certain forms of blood poisoning and are known to have damaging effects on hearing and kidney function. Deafness was found to occur in almost all children with the genetic defect who were given the drugs, regardless of dosage.

One solution would be to screen babies and children for the genetic fault before prescribing the drugs.

The study, carried out by a team at the University College London Institute of Child Health and funded by the charity Sparks, suggests consideration should be given to screening all pregnant women to establish whether they are carrying the specific gene mutation.


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