Last year, the Texas Legislature designated September as Sickle Cell Disease Awareness Month to shine a light on this hereditary blood disorder. September is also National Sickle Cell Awareness Month. As awareness grows, so does the capacity to help Texans who have the disease.
In Texas, approximately one out of every 2,000 newborns have a sickle cell disease. Sickle cell diseases (SCD) predominantly affect African American families in Texas, making up 79 percent of cases. Hispanic (5 percent of cases) and ethnicities indicated as “other” (16 percent of cases) are also significantly impacted.
SCD causes the body to produce crescent or sickle-shaped red blood cells. These cells have difficulty passing through small blood vessels. They block normal red blood cells from entering tissue. Parts of the body that don’t receive normal blood flow eventually become damaged. Complications can include anemia, vision loss, chronic pain, deep vein thrombosis, infection, pulmonary embolism and stroke.
Symptoms of SCD usually appear when an infant is around 5 months old. Early diagnosis helps parents access information and specialty health care for their child. In 1983, Texas began screening newborns for the disease as part of DSHS’ Newborn Screening Program. Blood samples are collected from a heel stick collected 24 to 48 hours after birth and again at 1 to 2 weeks of age. The samples are sent to the DSHS Laboratory for screening.
“Newborn screening is one of the most successful public health programs in the country. Every state in the United States screens newborns,” said David R. Martinez, director for the DSHS Newborn Screening Unit. “Finding and treating newborns and infants with disorders early can help manage or prevent serious complications. In some cases, screening can prevent early death.”
SCD worsens over time. Evolving treatments can decrease complications and improve a person’s life. These treatments include stem cell transplantation, gene therapy and new drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration.