September is Tay-Sachs Awareness Month and JScreen, a non-profit public health initiative based at Atlanta’s Emory University School of Medicine, is urging people at risk to test for genetic diseases.
One in 30 Ashkenazi Jews are carriers of Tay-Sachs, a genetic disorder that damages cells and causes progressive neurological disorders.
In addition to Ashkenazi Jews, one in 300 people in the general population are potential carriers of Tay-Sachs. French Canadians and Louisianan Cajuns are also at a higher risk for carrying the genetic disease.
Children with two parents carrying Tay-Sachs have a 25 percent chance of having the disease.
While there is no cure for the disease, genetic testing is used as a preventive measure to help parents determine whether their children could be at high risk for contracting the Tay-Sachs and other genetic disorders.
“The genetic screening offered today is fast, easy, and comprehensive,” said Karen Grinzaid of JScreen, which offers simple home test kits for genetic diseases. “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.”
Since the 1970’s, incidents of babies being born with Tay-Sachs has declined by 90 percent within the Jewish community, largely due to increased awareness of the disease and the availability of genetic screening.