Washington is the latest state to require a simple and inexpensive test to screen all newborns for congenital heart defects.

The legislation was signed into law on Tuesday and requires that all of the state’s newborns – nearly 87,000 per year — will get a pulse oximetry test. The requirements begin in late July.

Pulse oximetry tests blood oxygen levels using sensors placed on a newborn’s hand and foot. If levels are too low, more tests can be ordered that can uncover life-threatening heart defects, according to the American Heart Association.

“The unanimous passage of SHB 1285 shows the dedication of Washington’s legislature to improve the lives of the littlest citizens of the state,” said Kathy Rogers, executive vice president of the AHA Western States Affiliate.

The highly-effective and painless bedside test can be completed in as little as 45 seconds at less than $4 per baby, according to the AHA.

About 40,000 children are born with a heart defect every year in the United States. Heart defects are the most common birth defect in the United States, and early detection and treatment are crucial.

Without pulse oximetry testing, congenital heart defects might go undiagnosed because some newborns who have them appear healthy. A fourth of the defects are critical, requiring surgery or procedures with catheters within one year.  Pulse oximetry can speed diagnosis and detection, according to the AHA.

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