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Screening for sickle-cell trait in the emergency department.

OBJECTIVE: To determine 1) whether young adult black patients in an emergency department (ED) are familiar with sickle-cell anemia and 2) how many of these patients know their own sickle-cell trait status.

DESIGN: Black patients in an ED were interviewed. Women aged 18 to 40 years and men aged 18 to 50 were included. Sickle-cell screening was offered to the patients.

SETTING: The ED of a large urban university hospital with an annual census of 50,000, approximately 25% of whom are black.

PATIENTS: A convenience sample of 147 black patients presenting to the ED with minor medical conditions.

INTERVENTIONS: The subjects were interviewed to determine their knowledge base regarding sickle-cell anemia and to determine how many knew their sickle-cell trait status. The subjects were tested for sickle-cell trait.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: 98% of the patients had heard of sickle-cell anemia and 73% knew that it was a genetic disorder. Only 31% of the patients knew their sickle-cell status. Women were more likely than men to know their status. Approximately half of the patients who had family histories of the trait or the disease knew their own status. Two of the 47 patients (4%) tested had positive sickle-cell screen results.

CONCLUSIONS: Most black patients of childbearing age presenting to the ED have heard of sickle-cell anemia and know that it runs in families, but few know their own trait status. Until access to primary care providers is improved, ED physicians who care for patients at risk for sickle-cell trait have an obligation to ask them about prior screening and either screen them or refer them for screening.

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