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Sickle Cell Screening Improves Health Of Missouri Children

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A state law requiring all newborn babies in Missouri to be tested for sickle cell disease has helped improve the health of hundreds of children since the state’s screening program began 20 years ago.

Sickle cell disease is the most common health disorder identified by newborn screening tests. Early diagnosis and treatment can help reduce the effects of the disease, which can include recurrent pain, serious infections and early death.

Each year, about 40 babies in Missouri are identified with some form of sickle cell disease.

“Screening for sickle cell disease allows care to begin during a baby’s first few months of life,” said Nancy Althouse-Hill, who manages the state health department’s sickle cell program. “Early treatment is the key to helping a child with sickle cell disease live a longer, healthier life.”

September is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month, and the state health department is encouraging Missourians to learn more about the disease, an inherited blood disorder that is a major public health problem in the United States.

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Sickle cell disease is one of the most common genetic disorders in the United States, affecting more than 70,000 people – primarily African-Americans. The disease is also found in people who trace their ancestry to South and Central America, the Middle East, India, Italy, Greece, and Turkey.

In Missouri, one in 400 African-American babies is affected by sickle cell disease. More than 50,000 Missourians have the sickle cell trait; they do not have the disease but are carriers of the sickle gene. When both parents have sickle cell trait there is a 25 percent chance with each pregnancy that their child will have sickle cell disease.

Sickle cell disease causes red blood cells to function abnormally, becoming rigid and curving into a sickle-like shape. The sickle-shaped cells have difficulty passing through tiny blood vessels, resulting in painful blockages that prevent oxygen and nutrients in the blood from reaching organs and tissues. The blockages can result in tissue damage, severe recurrent pain, stroke, organ damage and other serious medical complications.

There is no universal cure for sickle cell disease, but early detection, new treatments and preventive therapies have improved the life expectancy and quality of life for people with the disease.

Sickle cell screening is part of Missouri’s Newborn Screening Program, which tests for 67 serious and often life-threatening health conditions. The screening involves taking a small blood sample, usually before a newborn leaves the hospital.

Observance of National Sickle Cell Awareness Month began in 1975. The Sickle Cell Disease Association of America Inc. and its member organizations began holding events throughout the month to bring attention to the disease at national and local levels. September officially became National Sickle Cell Awareness Month in 1983 when the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution introduced by the Congressional Black Caucus.

Since its official recognition, the month has been dedicated to events that raise awareness and understanding about the disease.