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CDC Report: Parasitic Infections Also Occur in U.S.

Millions of people infected

Most people think parasitic diseases occur in poor and developing countries or are infections they might pick up on a trip to a foreign country. However, parasitic infections also occur in the U.S., and in some cases affect millions of people. Often they can go unnoticed, with few symptoms. But many times the infections cause serious illnesses, including seizures, blindness, pregnancy complications, heart failure, and even death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has targeted five neglected parasitic infections (NPIs) in the U.S. as priorities for public health action based on the numbers of people infected, on the severity of the illnesses, and on the ability to prevent and treat them. These NPIs include Chagas disease, cysticercosis, toxocariasis, toxoplasmosis, and trichomoniasis.

“Parasitic infections affect millions around the world, causing seizures, blindness, infertility, heart failure, and even death,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “They’re more common in the U.S. than people realize, and yet there is so much we don’t know about them. We need research to learn more about these infections and action to better prevent and treat them.”

In a supplement to the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, published online February 10, CDC scientists discussed NPIs and their differing epidemiologic profiles and modes of transmission, as well as prevention and control strategies. The articles also highlighted the shared characteristics of the diseases, including the large numbers of people in the U.S. who are believed to be at risk, the potential for under-reporting and misdiagnoses because of the lack of physician awareness and optimal diagnostics, and the lack of interventions to prevent or treat parasitic diseases.

The estimates of the burden of NPIs and their effects include the following:

  • More than 300,000 people in the U.S. are infected with Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease, and more than 300 infected babies are born every year.
  • At least 1,000 hospitalizations for symptomatic cysticercosis occur each year in the U.S.
  • At least 14% of the U.S. population has been exposed to Toxocara, the parasite that causes toxocariasis, and each year at least 70 people — most of them children — are blinded by resulting eye disease.
  • More than 60 million people in the U.S. are chronically infected with Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. New infections in pregnant women can lead to birth defects, and infections in those with compromised immune systems can be fatal.
  • Trichomoniasis can cause pregnancy problems and can increase the risk of other sexually transmitted infections, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. The Trichomonas parasite is extremely common, affecting 3.7 million people in the U.S.

The good news is that most parasitic infections can be prevented, and many are treatable. However, these infections are often undetected and untreated because most people do not know they are infected or are at risk, or they don’t have access to appropriate care, the CDC says. Moreover, physicians are often unfamiliar with these parasitic infections and may not diagnose or treat them appropriately.

“The perception that parasitic diseases are no longer relevant or important is a major impediment to implementing currently available control and prevention strategies,” the authors noted. “The NPIs in the United States are part of the global burden of parasitic diseases, and strategies that reduce or eliminate them in the United States can someday be applied globally.”

Source: CDC; May 8, 2014.

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