Millions of Americans have tropical diseases they’re unaware of

MacKenzie, D. December 14, 2013. America’s hidden epidemic. NewScientist.

Increasing climate change and poverty are likely to increase the numbers of people with these diseases.

An estimated 330,000 US citizens, and possibly as many as a million, carry the parasite that causes Chagas disease. It is a chronic, silent infection that leads to lethal heart or gut damage in 40 per cent of cases. It is the most common parasitic disease in the Americas, and it can be treated – if the doctor is aware of it. Most US doctors aren’t.

Then there are intestinal worms, a chronic infestation that spreads in faeces and drains energy and nutrients from children across Africa. Cases aren’t supposed to occur in rich countries. Yet Toxocara canis, an intestinal worm that can cause asthma and epilepsy, is carried by 21 per cent of black people in the US – compared with 31 per cent of people in central Nigeria.

Under the radar

Diseases commonly associated with tropical climates and impoverished countries are hurting the US too. There is inadequate research to provide confident numbers, but the best estimates suggest that millions of US citizens are affected.

Parasitic worms

Toxocariasis 1.3-2.8 million cases
Strongyloidiasis 68,000–100,000
Ascariasis 4 million
Cysticercosis 41,000–169,000
Schistosomiasis 8,000

Protozoan parasites

Chagas disease 330,000
Toxoplasmosis 1.1 million
Trichomoniasis 7.4 million

Virus

Dengue fever 110,000-200,000 (acute cases annually)

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