NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — About 1 out of every 365 African-Americans is born with sickle cell disease.

Those who have the disease have a weakened immune system, making them more at risk of suffering life-threatening symptoms of COVID-19. As CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reported Monday, people who carry the sickle cell gene should also be concerned.

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Fragrant Moise, a 65-year-old from the Bronx, has sickle cell disease.

“The crisis is very painful, because you feel all the joints in your body hurting at the same time,” Moise said.

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Moise is among about 100,000 Americans suffering from the inherited blood disorder, which can cause painful blockages in blood vessels, anemia, strokes and early death. It’s a disease that largely affects African-Americans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people with sickle cell are at higher risk for severe illness from the coronavirus.

Dr. Jeff Glassberg is director of the sickle cell program at Mount Sinai. He says blood clotting appears to be a COVID-19 feature, which can make sickle cell symptoms worse.

“The two of them together creates a synergy where you’re more likely to develop blood clots, so we did see more of that and some of that did ultimately lead to our patients dying,” Glassberg said.

Researchers are now trying to determine if the millions of Americans who have the sickle cell trait but not the disease, could also have COVID vulnerabilities.

Many carriers of the gene don’t know it.

Merlene and Molino Sotillo discovered they were carriers, only after their two children were born with the disease. Their son, Syd, helped found the Sickle Cell Awareness Foundation in Jamaica, Queens, before he died from the disorder in 2012 at 30 years old.

As their daughter still suffers from the disease, they’re continuing their son’s selfless mission to save lives.

“I can’t think about me. I gotta make sure that people are being educated and most importantly be tested, because without testing you don’t know you have the trait,” Merlene said.

It’s knowledge that could prevent a largely benign condition from becoming fatal.

Doctors urge people with sickle cell disease and also those who carry the trait to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

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Hazel Sanchez