Tags: resurgence | tropical | disease | US | Chagas | chikungunya

Resurgence of Tropical Diseases in US

By    |   Thursday, 13 Aug 2015 12:41 PM


The United States is seeing a resurgence of tropical diseases, and the medical profession may be unprepared to deal with them. While many experts were concerned last year over the spread of Ebola, others were concerned about other tropical diseases that they say are bigger threats, particularly Chagas, chikungunya, and dengue. Although Ebola could be stopped by quarantining it's victims, Chagas, chikungunya, and dengue are spread by mosquitoes which can't be contained by borders. All were reported in the United States last year.

Those three diseases are only the tip of the iceberg, according to experts. For example, cysticercosis, toxocariasis, toxoplasmosis, and trichomoniasis are four parasitic infections that occur in the United States, although many U.S. doctors are unfamiliar with them.

Some of the tropical diseases, such as Chagas, are too rare in this country for the big pharmaceutical companies to spend the money to develop treatments, even though the CDC says it affects approximately 300,000 Americans. Drugs to treat it aren't approved by the FDA, and must be acquired directly from the CDC.

Other tropical diseases, such as chikungunya which affected more than 1,600 Americans last year, have no treatment. Dengue has also been reported in the U.S., and scientists fear it is spreading, especially in the South.

Many of the patients who contract these exotic diseases have never left the United States, says an article published in MedicalXpress. Such diseases thrive in warm, humid climates and in poverty, which makes the American South vulnerable.

Tropical diseases have always affected the South, with signs of Chagas disease being spotted in human remains from 1,000 years ago. Europeans settling in the United States were subjected to repeated epidemics of malaria, yellow fever, and dengue.

In 1793, 5,000 people died of yellow fever in Philadelphia during a three-month period, and in 1878, an epidemic killed 5,000 residents of Memphis — about a third of its population. New Orleans was subjected to an epidemic in 1905.

The Centers for Disease Control was created in 1946 to deal with malaria, and established its headquarters in Atlanta, specifically because it was ground zero for the disease.

Better sanitation and the advent of antibiotics made tropical diseases seem a thing of the past, and few scientists, including doctors, specialized in them. "People thought that specializing in infectious diseases would be a waste of time because they would soon be history," Lucas Blanton, an infectious disease physician at the University of Texas Medical Branch, told MedicalXpress.

Most tropical diseases could be traced to a patient's travels. But infectious diseases of the past have begun to make a comeback among those who have never traveled, and diseases, such as Chagas, which had never been found in people who had not traveled outside the United States, is beginning to be recognized as a major problem in Texas. According to MedicalXpress, a 2014 study showed that one out of every 6,500 people in Texas who donated blood screened positive for Chagas, which is almost 50 times more than the CDC's estimate. If not treated early, Chagas eventually causes heart failure.

Infectious disease physician Peter Hotez believes that other infectious diseases, such as hookworm and cysticercosis, which are caused by worms that infect the digestive system, are rampant in the South due to unsanitary conditions caused by poverty. They, in turn, cause other diseases, such as asthma, and lead to cognitive delays and behavioral problems, which result in low-paying jobs which continues the cycle of poverty.

"So many of these neglected tropical diseases are not acute infections like…the flu or common cold," Hotez told MedicalXpress. "Many are chronic, debilitating conditions that mimic non-communicable diseases… If somebody has epilepsy, they don't think of cysticercosis… If a child tests poorly in school, the pediatrician or nurse practitioner won't think of toxocariasis."

Now that diseases like Chagas are spreading in the United States, Hotez says unless health professionals become better educated and better treatments are developed, the numbers of people affected will continue to grow.

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The United States is seeing a resurgence of tropical diseases, and the medical profession may be unprepared to deal with them. While many experts were concerned last year over the spread of Ebola, others were concerned about other tropical diseases that they say are bigger...
resurgence, tropical, disease, US, Chagas, chikungunya
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2015-41-13
Thursday, 13 Aug 2015 12:41 PM
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