Via The New York Times, a disturbing report: Tropical Diseases - The New Plague of Poverty. Click through for the full report and many links. Excerpt:
In the United States, 2.8 million children are living in households with incomes of less than $2 per person per day, a benchmark more often applied to developing countries.
An additional 20 million Americans live in extreme poverty. In the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, poverty rates are near 20 percent. In some of the poorer counties of Texas, where I live, rates often approach 30 percent. In these places, the Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality, ranks as high as in some sub-Saharan African countries.
Poverty takes many tolls, but in the United States, one of the most tragic has been its tight link with a group of infections known as the neglected tropical diseases, which we ordinarily think of as confined to developing countries.
Outbreaks of dengue fever, a mosquito-transmitted viral infection that is endemic to Mexico and Central America, have been reported in South Texas. Then there is cysticercosis, a parasitic infection caused by a larval pork tapeworm that leads to seizures and epilepsy; toxocariasis, another parasitic infection that causes asthma and neurological problems; cutaneous leishmaniasis, a disfiguring skin infection transmitted by sand flies; and murine typhus, a bacterial infection transmitted by fleas and often linked to rodent infestations.
Among the more frightening is Chagas disease. Transmitted by a “kissing bug” that resembles a cockroach but with the ability to feed on human blood, it is a leading cause of heart failure and sudden death throughout Latin America. It is an especially virulent scourge among pregnant women, who can pass the disease on to their babies. Just last month, the first case of congenital Chagas disease in the United States was reported.
These are, most likely, the most important diseases you’ve never heard of.
They disproportionately affect Americans living in poverty, and especially minorities, including up to 2.8 million African-Americans with toxocariasis and 300,000 or more people, mostly Hispanic Americans, with Chagas disease. The neglected tropical diseases thrive in the poorer South’s warm climate, especially in areas where people live in dilapidated housing or can’t afford air-conditioning and sleep with the windows open to disease-transmitting insects. They thrive wherever there is poor street drainage, plumbing, sanitation and garbage collection, and in areas with neglected swimming pools.
Most troubling of all, they can even increase the levels of poverty in these areas by slowing the growth and intellectual development of children and impeding productivity in the work force. They are the forgotten diseases of forgotten people, and Texas is emerging as an epicenter.