ATLANTA, Georgia – September is Tay-Sachs Awareness Month, an urgent reminder for people to get tested for genetic diseases so they can make informed decisions about family planning. Expanded screening panels now enable for testing of more than 200 diseases, a significant development from a generation ago.
“The genetic screening offered today is fast, easy, and comprehensive,” says Karen Grinzaid of JScreen, a non-profit community-based public health initiative dedicated to preventing Jewish genetic diseases. Housed at Emory University in Atlanta, JScreen offers tests for genetic diseases thorugh DNA saliva that can be collected at home and then sent to a lab.
“While Tay-Sachs certainly is one of the more well-known diseases among Ashkenazi Jews, we test for over 200 diseases that affect people of all backgrounds. Young adults especially need to know if they are carriers and if their future children might be at risk,” adds Grinzaid.
According to JScreen, one in 30 Ashkenazi Jews are carriers of Tay-Sachs, and one in 300 people of the general population are carriers. While there is no cure for Tay-Sachs, genetic testing can determine who is a carrier and whether their child will be at risk for this and other diseases.
Since the 1970s, the incidents of babies being born with Tay-Sachs has fallen by more than 90 percent among Jews because of scientific advances and increased screening in the Jewish community. When both parents are carriers, each child has a 25% of having the disease.
JScreen notes that it detects nearly two times as many carriers of genetic diseases in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent compared with the general population. One in three Jews is a carrier for one of the Jewish genetic diseases.
The JScreen “spit kit” can be ordered online. If a person or couple’s risk is elevated, certified genetic counselors will privately address their results, options and resources. Nowadays, geneticists can look closely at people’s genetic makeup to identify their risk for more than 200 different diseases, including those that are predominant in the Jewish community.
The Senate voted unanimously in July of 2008 to name September National Tay-Sach’s Awareness Month.