The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Is sickle-cell trait as benign as is usually assumed?


1Anthropology, University of South Florida, 2School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, 3College of Medicine, University of South Florida

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The assumption that sickle-cell trait (SCT) is benign is challenged, particularly by health-care providers working with athletes. Since 2000 sixteen SCT athletes died during exertion. Why these individuals died while other SCT athletes can train and play normally has not been determined. In this paper we present data from a study which determined the frequency of SCT as a causal factor for death in the US general population and use a GIS approach to understanding the distribution of these deaths. The number of deaths linked to SCT as a cause of death since 2000 is 74. This number is an underestimate, since fourteen states do not record SCT as a cause of death. A GIS-constructed map showed that high frequencies of SCT deaths were clustered in few states. Mortality rates were computed by dividing the number of SCT deaths by population size and multiplying by 1,000. The states with the highest SCT mortality rates are: Colorado (0.005), Alaska (0.0014), and Mississippi (0.001). Possible factors may include elevation, climate, SCT prevalence, etc. Our study shows that more data are desperately in need. It would be informative to compute the mortality rate per state by dividing the number of deaths by the number of SCT individuals rather than by the total population. Factors which cause death in some SCT individuals remain largely unexplored. From an evolutionary perspective, an understanding of such factors will allow us to predict changes in the frequency of the sickle cell allele with greater precision.

Supported by a NCAA 2012 Graduate Student Research Grant

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