Worms Infect More Poor Americans Than Thought

Maggie Fox, Reuters, December 26, 2007

Roundworms may infect close to a quarter of inner city black children, tapeworms are the leading cause of seizures among U.S. Hispanics and other parasitic diseases associated with poor countries are also affecting Americans, a U.S. expert said on Tuesday.

Recent studies show many of the poorest Americans living in the United States carry some of the same parasitic infections that affect the poor in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, said Dr. Peter Hotez, a tropical disease expert at George Washington University and editor-in-chief of the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

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He said the United States spent hundreds of millions of dollars to defend against bio-terrorism threats like anthrax or smallpox or avian flu, which were more a theoretical concern than a real threat at present.

“And yet we have a devastating parasitic disease burden among the American poor, right under our nose,” Hotez said.

He noted a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, presented in November, found that almost 14 percent of the U.S. population is infected with Toxocara roundworms, which dogs and cats can pass to people.

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He said up to 2,000 new cases of neurological disease caused by tapeworms are diagnosed every year in the United States. More than 2 percent of adult Latinos may be infected, and with 35 million Hispanics in the United States, this could add up to tens of thousands of cases, Hotez said.

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[Editor’s Note: “Neglected Diseases and Poverty in ‘The Other America’: The Greatest Health Disparity in the United States?” by Peter J. Hotezcan be read here.]

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