Is America ready for a new wave of tropical diseases?
10:32 AM EDT, Wed August 12, 2015
Chagas disease is spread by the triatomine bug -- nicknamed "kissing bugs" -- which carries the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. Over time, the parasite can chew through cardiac muscle and cause heart failure causing an estimated 11,000 deaths globally each year.
In March 2015, a patient in Houston, Texas was diagnosed with Chagas disease -- an infectious disease commonly found in the tropics of Latin America, where an estimated 8 million people are infected. Tropical diseases have been affecting people in the American South as long as humans have been living there.
In late 2013, Chikungunya virus was found for the first time in the Americas on islands in the Caribbean and has today spread across Latin America and entered the Southern US. Past outbreaks occurred in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Courtesy Jose Cabezasa/Getty Images
Since its arrival in the Western hemisphere the virus has spread across the Americas and infected more than 1.2 million people locally.
The Aedes mosquitoes spreading Chikungunya need shallow water surfaces to breed, which are plentiful in urban settings. Containers and other items enabling shallow water are being removed to reduce numbers of breeding sites.
Cysticercosis is the infection of muscle tissue with the larvae of the Taenia tapeworm. The most serious form of the disease, neurocysticercosis, affects tissues in the central nervous system. In the radiology image below, the cysts are identified as white lumps within the brain.
BK Jain et al/ Indian Journal of Radiology and Imaging
Neurocysticercosis infections are now occurring in the United States. The American South's hot and humid climate, the influx of insects that carry diseases, and the ever-increasing movement of humans have combined with poverty to create a perfect storm of disease.
Courtesy Helena Helmby/LSHTM
More than 500 million children worldwide are infected with "Neglected Tropcial Diseases", including intestinal worms like hookworm, whipworm and roundworm -- aided by poor sanitation and living conditions. Pictured, children receive the deworming medicine albendazole. Hookworm was once widespread in the United States in the low-income, mainly African-American counties around Montgomery, Alabama.