Yes, they can. Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder of the red blood cells, and it can affect people of ANY race or ethnicity.
Sickle cell disease is much more common in African Americans in the US—occurring in approximately 1 in 350 African Americans.
There are other groups of people who have high amounts of sickle cell disease. It is prevalent in Africa, in Mediterranean countries (such as Greece, Turkey, and Italy), the Arabian Peninsula, India, Spanish-speaking regions in South and Central America, and parts of the Caribbean. In all those regions, both dark and light skin people can carry copies of the sickle cell genes.
How do children get sickle cell disease?
Just like the color of their skin and eyes, a child with sickle cell disease is born with it. Sickle cell disease is an autosomal recessive genetic disease, meaning that children inherit the disease from both parents. Without getting too technical, a child must have two copies of the sickle cell gene—one from each parent—to have sickle cell disease.
If a person only has one copy of the sickle cell gene, then they do not have sickle cell disease. These people have sickle cell trait, and usually do not have any health-related problems because of the gene. But they can still pass on this one copy to their children.
How do I know if my child has sickle cell disease?
Every state in the US provides a newborn screening test for sickle cell trait and disease. If your child's doctors are concerned that your child might have sickle cell disease, they can also order a separate test called Hemoglobin Electrophoresis.
In the US, sickle cell disease occurs in approximately 1 in 2,500 newborns—greater than that of any other condition detected by newborn blood screening.
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