People who inherit 2 copies of a mutation in a gene called HFE are predisposed to haemochromatosis.
The disorder, which affects one in 200 north Europeans, causes the body to absorb and store too much iron.
If untreated, the disorder can result in liver cirrhosis, heart problems, diabetes, arthritis and chronic fatigue.
Genetic screening for the condition is controversial because not everyone who has the mutation develops the disorder, and insurers and employers may discriminate against carriers of the mutation causing anxiety about screening.
In this study, Kate Allen and colleagues from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia, took cheek brush samples from 11,800 adults in their workplace.
The researchers screened the samples for the HFE mutation and identified 47 participants who had 2 copies of the mutation and 1338 who had 1 copy of the mutation.
|46 of the 47 newly identified carriers took steps to prevent or treat iron accumulation|
The research team noted that 46 of the 47 newly identified carriers took steps to prevent or treat iron accumulation.
The team observed that almost all the participants were pleased they had the test and there was no increased anxiety in the individuals who had 2 copies of the gene.
In addition, the investigators reported that all individuals who had the gene mutation and sought insurance had their policies underwritten at normal standard rates.
This was due to an agreement the researchers had with the Australian insurance industry to ensure mutation carriers were not discriminated against.
Dr Allen’s team concluded, “Health economic considerations are vital to decisions regarding screening programmes.”
"An economic analysis of this programme is currently ongoing.”
“If genetic screening is shown to be cost-effective, it should be implemented since hereditary haemochromatosis can be prevented by simple measure, and, as shown in our study, the risks of such screening are very low and genetic discrimination need not occur.”
In an accompanying comment, Professor Paul Adams from the London Health Sciences Center in Canada states, "This study is a strong endorsement for the feasability and acceptability of genetic testing for haemochromatosis in the workplace."
"It is likely that optimum screening strategies, including no screening, will vary in different countries depending on various medical, ethical, legal and social issues."