Once considered a death sentence, sickle cell disease has had promising medical breakthroughs. These are the facts.
MYTH: Only Black people get sickle cell disease
FACT: Though most prevalent among people of African descent, "It also affects people from India, the Middle East, Greece and southern Italy," explains Althea Grant, Ph.D., chief of epidemiology and surveillance branch, National Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.
MYTH: It's a blood disease, so you can catch it.
FACT: Sickle cell is not contagious. "It can't be passed through blood," says Grant. "You get sickle cell by inheriting genes from each parent."
MYTH: Babies born with sickle cell disease usually die in childhood.
FACT: While there was a time when babies with the disease were unlikely to make it past age 14, blood therapies have increased life expectancy by decades.
MYTH: There is no cure for adults with sickle cell.
FACT: The transplant surgery has been less successful in adults who are more likely to reject the donor bone marrow. However, new research from the National Institutes of Health shows promise, so talk to your doctor. "The pool of people who are eligible for a cure has expanded dramatically," says Grant. "That's very exciting.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of ESSENCE.