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559th Medical Group invests in trainee health with sickle cell screenings

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- World Sickle Cell Awareness Day is June 19, and at Joint Base San Antonio  members of the Reid Clinic and the 559th Medical Group are responsible for screening all basic military trainees for the sickle cell trait. 
 

Sickle cell disease, or SCD, is a disorder that affects hemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to cells throughout the body. People with this disease have atypical hemoglobin molecules that can distort red blood cells into a sickle, or crescent shape, according to U.S. National Library of Medicine’s website, https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/.

People who have SCD inherit two sickle cell genes, one from each parent; however, people who inherit one sickle cell gene and one normal gene have what is called sickle cell trait, or SCT. People with SCT usually do not have the symptoms of SCD, but they can pass the trait on to their children, or potentially exhibit symptoms according to the Center for Disease Control. 

Members of the Reid Clinic and the 559th Medical Group screen about 35,000 trainees entering BMT for SCT annually as a precautionary measure to identify trainees that may exhibit symptoms related to the sickle cell trait while participating in strenuous physical activity during BMT.   

“No trainee is allowed to participate in physical training until all labs have results, squadrons are notified, and trainees with sickle cell trait have been briefed on SCT,"  Gardner-Wood said.  "Roughly one percent of trainees test positive for SCT.  By identifying those with the trait, it makes them aware that they have the trait and allows them to look out for symptoms related to SCT and a sickling crisis." 

The sickling crisis refers to sudden severe pain, fatigue, lightheadedness and other symptoms that would cause worry in one who has been identified as having the sickle cell trait.  

“Trainees who test positive for the trait do not have sickle cell,” Garner-Wood said.  “While SCD is a disqualifying factor for participation in the military, having the trait is not. 

“All trainees who test positive for sickle cell are provided a briefing of what the sickle cell trait is, and what the risks of physical training and SCT are,” she continued. “Overall risk of an exercise-associated sickle crisis is very small, but all trainees with SCT are instructed to be smart when exercising; increase intensity of workouts gradually, stay well hydrated and eat properly.” 

Individuals with SCTs are advised that if they experience unusual symptoms, especially during a workout, to stop the activity and seek medical attention. 

“After the briefing, all trainees have the option to request an appointment with a medical provider should they have additional questions,” Garner-Wood said.  

When presence of the SCT is confirmed, trainees are issued a red medical alert ID tag embossed with “SCT” in addition to their identification tags. Trainees wear this identification for the duration of BMT and Airmen’s Week at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. Once the Airmen move on to technical training, they are encouraged to continue being aware of any unusual symptoms they may experience during physical activity and always seek medical attention. 

For more information on SCD and SCT, visit https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sca or https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/sickle-cell-disease.