Sickle cell disease is a serious genetic disorder that impacts many families around the country and around the world. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) supports the annual recognition of September as National Sickle Cell Awareness Month to help focus attention on the need for further research and treatment of sickle cell disease.
As the most common inherited blood disorder in the United States, sickle cell disease (SCD) currently affects approximately 100,000 Americans, including more than 4,000 South Carolinians who have the disease. Complications from SCD include pain attacks that can cause the individual to need hospitalization. Other potentially life-threatening complications include infections, stroke, and organ damage.
Because symptoms and complications of SCD can vary, treatment options are different for each person depending on their symptoms. The only known cure for SCD is bone marrow or stem cell transplant.
“Sickle cell disease can be a debilitating and life-threatening disease for those who have it, and it can also affect the lives of their family and friends,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Public Health Director. “While September is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month, increasing public knowledge about sickle cell should be a year-long initiative.”
The theme of this year’s monthly recognition is “Sickle Cell Matters,” which underscores the need to raise awareness about the daily struggles of those living with SCD as well as the need to address the stereotypes and stigmas associated with people who have the disorder.
Babies are born with SCD; it isn’t a disease that someone can develop later in life. In people who are born with SCD, both copies of a hemoglobin gene are abnormal. A person born with one abnormal copy of the gene and one normal copy has “sickle cell trait.” People with sickle cell trait usually don’t have symptoms although in rare cases they can experience complications of SCD like pain crises. When two people with sickle cell trait have a child, there is a 25-percent chance the child will have SCD. Even if only one parent has a sickle cell trait, their child could still have an increased risk of inheriting a type of sickle cell disease.
Blood tests can confirm whether a person has sickle cell trait or SCD, and the disorders are commonly detected during newborn health screenings.
SCD disproportionally affects those with African ancestry or who identify as Black. The disease also can be found in anyone with genetic makeup from a part of the world where malaria is more widely spread, such as India, South America and Central America.
“South Carolina has a Sickle Cell Disease State Plan developed by a group of dedicated partners who work to help mitigate this life-threatening disorder,” said Dr. Traxler. “We can all help increase awareness about sickle cell disease by sharing education and information within our communities, especially in minority or underserved communities that may struggle with access to routine health care.”
In 2017, South Carolina established the South Carolina Sickle Cell Disease Advocacy Team, which remains focused on one common goal – to improve the treatment and care received by individuals and their families who have sickle cell disease.
DHEC provides a printable sickle cell disease flyer available for anyone here. Organizations can order printed copies of the flyer for distribution by placing an order here. Learn more about the disease at cdc.gov/sicklecell.
About the S.C.
Members of the South Carolina Sickle Cell Disease Advocacy Team (SCSCDAT), who came together to develop the South Carolina Sickle Cell Disease State Plan, include physicians, hematologists, government agencies non-profit organizations, healthcare management organizations and individuals living with SCD and their family members.