A program expansion in Manitoba means all newborn children will be tested for rare genetic diseases.

The Manitoba Newborn Screening Program will now include severe combined immune deficiency (SCID), a group of rare genetic diseases affecting a child’s immune system, Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Cameron Friesen announced Thursday.

The disease can lead to early and severe infections, according to a government news release.

It explains SCID-positive children are at a high risk of poor health outcomes if they are immunized using live vaccines, such as tuberculosis (BCG) or measles/mumps/rubella.

If left untreated, children aren’t expected to live beyond the age of two.

“This is such an important advance in the care of Manitoba children with SCID,” said Dr. Cheryl Rockman-Greenberg, a clinician scientist with the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba, in a news release.

“Manitoba children with SCID detected at birth and treated early before any symptoms develop will now have greatly improved health outcomes and quality of life not possible before.”

SCID affects about one in 60,000 newborns worldwide but is more common in Manitoba, according to the release.

In Manitoba, about one in 16,000 newborns are born with SCID, with about half of cases found in northern Cree and Mennonite populations, with mutations that are specific to the province.

The government says the program will cost about $440,000 in annual operations and $55,000 in staffing and start-up costs.

The minister said he expects those costs to be offset by reduced costs for disease treatment.

The program is set to start screening in early 2020.