Pediatric gastroenterologists from Johns Hopkins Children's Center, Baltimore, have launched a campaign to help clinicians and parents of newborns screen for biliary atresia, a rare liver disease that requires prompt attention.

The Hopkins clinicians designed a simple, one-page stool color guide that Procter & Gamble Baby Care will distribute for free to birthing centers nationwide. In addition, a free mobile app, developed for Johns Hopkins by HCB Health, uses color recognition software to enable parents to snap photos of their baby’s stool and receive feedback within seconds.

Parents then have the option of sending the photos to their pediatrician. The app also offers reminder notifications for stool-color checks every two weeks between birth and two months of age, the critical window to diagnose the disease. However, the experts caution, the app is an educational, rather than diagnostic, tool and parents should consult a physician if they have any concerns.

Biliary atresia, which occurs in roughly one out of 14,000 newborns in the United States, is the leading cause of liver failure in children and the number one reason for liver transplantation in children. It is commonly heralded by white or clay-colored stool.

Simple interventions, like the color chart and the mobile app, can greatly enhance recognition of abnormal stool and even make the difference between life and death in some cases of biliary atresia, the Johns Hopkins experts believe.

 A similar color chart had a dramatic impact in Taiwan after it implemented the stool-color card program nationwide. The approach led to faster diagnosis and improved the five-year survival rate by 33 percent — from 56 percent to 89 percent — according to a 2010 study published in the journal Hepatology.

The app is available for both Apple and Android phones.

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