Parasitic Infections Need More Attention in US

Infections from parasites including Chagas disease and toxoplasmosis affect millions in US

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The mere thought of a parasitic infection is enough to give some people the shivers, but according to a new report, we may need to devote more time to focusing on these conditions.

According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), parasitic infections — diseases caused by parasites that live off other organisms — affect millions of Americans.

CDC identified five common types of parasitic infections that are often overlooked or "neglected" in the US, including Chagas disease and toxoplasmosis.

"Wash your hands thoroughly before handling or preparing food. "

CDC reported that while, in many cases, parasitic infections cause no major symptoms, they also can cause serious health effects like seizures, blindness and death. This CDC report identified five neglected parasitic infections (NPIs) that should be considered public health priorities.

"These infections are considered neglected because relatively little attention has been devoted to their surveillance, prevention, and/or treatment," explained CDC. "NPIs were prioritized based on the numbers of people infected, the severity of the illnesses, or our ability to prevent and treat them."

One of the NPIs, Chagas disease, is spread by triatomine bugs infected with the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. The infection is often undiagnosed and unnoticed for many years, before potentially causing heart diseases and gastrointestinal problems.

Chagas disease is common in Mexico, Central America and South America, which is where many people living in the US first become infected. CDC estimated that over 300,000 people in the US are living with Chagas disease and over 300 babies are born infected with the disease each year.

Neurocysticercosis, another NPI, is caused by the larval cysts of the pork tapeworm. The infection can affect the brain, causing seizures and death. CDC reported that around 1,000 hospitalizations for neurocysticercosis happen in the US each year.

Toxocariasis is tied to dog or cat roundworms and, according to CDC, nearly 14 percent of people in the US have been exposed to these parasites. It is estimated that at least 70 people (potentially more), most of whom are kids, are blinded by this parasitic infection each year.

In toxoplasmosis, people become infected with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, often through eating contaminated food or undercooked meat. CDC reported that over 60 million people in the US have a chronic toxoplasmosis infection. The disease can cause no symptoms in some, symptoms like fatigue and fever in others, serious issues in people with immune system problems and birth defects in pregnant women.

The final NPI, trichomoniasis, is a sexually transmitted disease that affects around 3.7 million Americans. Those infected with trichomoniasis can be at a greater risk for contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

CDC suggested that efforts need to be made to increase awareness of these infections among both doctors and the wider public, to improve testing for these diseases, and to execute further research into understanding NPIs.

In a CDC release, Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, Director of CDC, also highlighted the importance of better understanding of these neglected parasitic infections.

"They’re more common in the US than people realize and yet there is so much we don’t know about them," said Dr. Frieden. "We need research to learn more about these infections and action to better prevent and treat them.”

Review Date: 
May 9, 2014
Last Updated:
May 11, 2014