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Parasites affecting poor Americans

December 31, 2007|From Times Wire Reports

Roundworms may infect close to one-fourth of inner city black children, tapeworms are the leading cause of seizures among U.S. Hispanics and other parasitic diseases associated with poor countries are also affecting Americans, a U.S. expert said Tuesday.

Studies show many of the poorest Americans living in the United States carry some of the same parasitic infections that affect the poor in Africa, Asia and Latin America, said Dr. Peter Hotez, a tropical disease expert at George Washington University and editor in chief of the Public Library of Science journal Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Writing in the journal, Hotez said these parasitic infections had been ignored by most health experts in the United States.

He said the United States spent hundreds of millions of dollars to defend against bioterrorism threats such as anthrax, smallpox or avian flu, which were more a theoretical concern than a real threat at present. "And yet we have a devastating parasitic disease burden among the American poor," Hotez said.

He noted that a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, presented in November, found that almost 14% of the U.S. population is infected with Toxocara roundworms, which dogs and cats can pass to people.

"Urban playgrounds in the United States have recently been shown to be a particularly rich source of Toxocara eggs, and inner-city children are at high risk of acquiring the infection," Hotez wrote, adding that this might be partly behind the rise in asthma cases in the country. Up to 23% of urban black children may be infected, he said.

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