August 22, 2009

Third World infections hitting U.S.

Parasitic diseases like Chagas and dengue fever have spread along the border with Mexico and in other poor areas of the United States, researchers say.

Scientists say the diseases can cause long-term health problems, including birth defects and heart disease, The Wall Street Journal reports. The diseases thrive in conditions where people have poor sanitation and suffer from malnutrition and are usually associated with poor countries, especially in the tropics..

These are diseases that we know are tenfold more important than swine flu, said Dr. Peter Hotez, a research microbiologist at George Washington University. They're on no one's radar.

Insect-borne infections have been found in the villages on the border, where the poor typically live with unpaved streets, poor drainage and no screens. In Baltimore, poor residents have been diagnosed with infections spread by rat urine.

Dr. Jeanne Sheffield, a Dallas obstetrician, said she sees several pregnant women a year with seizures associated with cysticercosis, a disease caused by tapeworm larvae.

People who live in the suburbs are at very low risk, Hotez said.