What is the benefit of the sickle cell trait (SCT) in malaria-endemic areas?

Updated: May 12, 2021
  • Author: Joseph E Maakaron, MD; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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Answer

Carriers of the sickle cell trait (ie, heterozygotes who carry one HbS allele and one normal adult hemoglobin [HbA] allele) have some resistance to the often-fatal malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum. This property explains the distribution and persistence of this gene in the population in malaria-endemic areas. [5, 6, 7]

However, in areas such as the United States, where malaria is not a problem, the trait no longer provides a survival advantage. Instead, it poses the threat of SCD, which occurs in children of carriers who inherit the sickle cell gene from both parents (ie, HbSS).


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