Student athletes should not be screened for the sickle cell trait as a prerequisite for playing sports, according to an influential medical organization.
The American Society of Hematology (ASH), the world’s largest professional society concerned with the causes and treatment of blood disorders, has issued a policy statement opposing mandatory screening of athletes for the trait.
The agency also urged athletics programs across the country to adopt standard preventive interventions in their training programs to protect athletes from exertion-related illness and death.
The policy contrasts to the controversial policy enacted in 2010 by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) requiring Division I institutions to perform sickle cell testing for all incoming student athletes.
“Screening alone is an extremely limited approach intended to protect the liability of the NCAA and the athlete’s university, not the student athlete,” said ASH President-Elect Dr. Janis Abkowitz, in a statement. “Furthermore, sickle cell trait is not the only condition that can lead to death from athletic over-exertion, underscoring the need for NCAA to require universal preventive interventions in its training programs that will better protect everyone.”
Sickle cell trait is an inherited blood disorder that affects 8 percent of African-Americans. Unlike sickle cell disease -- in which patients have two genes that cause the production of abnormal blood hemoglobin -- individuals with sickle cell trait carry only one defective gene and typically live normal lives.
Rarely, extreme conditions such as severe dehydration and high-intensity physical activity can lead to serious health issues, including sudden death, in these individuals.
ASH officials said the organization’s policy statement was based on recommendations of experts in sickle cell biology and care that scientific evidence does not justify the screening of all athletes for sickle cell trait as a prerequisite to participation.