Expert Says Worms and Parasites Drain U.S. Poor

Maggie Fox, Reuters, June 25, 2008

Diseases caused by worms and parasites are draining the health and energy of the poorest Americans, an expert said on Tuesday.

And diseases associated with the developing world, such as dengue fever and Chagas disease, may become a bigger problem for the United States as the climate changes, said Dr. Peter Hotez of George Washington University and the Sabin Vaccine Institute in Washington.

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“Throughout the American South during the early twentieth century, malaria combined with hookworm infection and pellagra (a vitamin deficiency) to produce a generation of anemic, weak, and unproductive children and adults,” Hotez wrote.

The parasitic diseases are having similar effects now, he said.

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“These diseases occur predominantly in people of color living in the Mississippi Delta and elsewhere in the American South, in disadvantaged urban areas, and in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, as well as in certain immigrant populations and disadvantaged white populations living in Appalachia,” he wrote.

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DOG DROPPINGS

Toxocariasis, a roundworm parasite transmitted in dog droppings, infected up 2.8 million poor black children living in inner cities, the South and Appalachia, Hotez said. {snip}

Strongyloidiasis is caused by a threadworm that lives throughout the body and infects 68,000 to 100,000 people. {snip}

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One threat to babies is cytomegalovirus, which infects 27,002 newborn annually, causing deafness and mental retardation.

“It’s amazing what we tolerate,” Hotez said. He noted the United States spends $1 billion a year preparing for outbreaks of diseases that have not occurred, including smallpox, anthrax and avian influenza.

“But these (other) diseases are occurring among voiceless people,” he said. “It’s an unintended form of racism in a sense. We need to make these disease household words.”

Chagas disease, caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, infects as many as 8 to 11 million people in Latin America and may become a U.S. threat, Hotez said. {snip}

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