Aug 16, 2015 07:06 PM EDT
One wing of the Smith Clinic's third floor in Houston is transformed for half a day each week into a tropical medicine clinic. According to Dr. Woc-Colburn, they have treated everything from river blindness and dengue fever to chikungunya and cutaneous leishmaniasis.
What is surprising is the fact that their patients are not globetrotting travellers who might bring exotic diseases back home. The Smith Clinic is a providing a safety net, one last resort for health care to patients without insurance and on low incomes. Many of their patients cannot even afford to travel and they haven't left the Houston area for decades.
This is not an isolated case. Clinics like the one in Houston may be just a surface of the iceberg, the edge of a gathering crisis. Diseases once associated with tropical countries far from home are increasingly being found in the U.S., especially in the southern states.
Peter Hotez, Infectious disease physician, has become so concerned because of this issue that he founded a school of tropical medicine in Houston, at the Baylor College of Medicine. The area, according to Hotez, is one of the world's ten hotspots for so-called neglected tropical diseases.
Hotez explains that calling these illnesses neglected tropical diseases is probably a misnomer on the 'tropical' part. Most of the neglected tropical diseases in the world are occurring in wealthy countries and most affected are "the poor living among the wealthy."
Besides poverty, which is indeed a critical factor, the American South's humid and hot climate is favorable for the influx of insects carrying diseases. Another factor is the ever-increasing movement of humans in our modern times. All these factors combined with the region's high poverty rate create the perfect environment for these diseases to prosper. Hotez warns that the worst has yet to arrive.
The advent of anti-parasitic drugs and life-saving antibiotics, combined with the aggressive government-funded eradication programs of the 1950s and early 1960s made infectious diseases seem like something belonging to the past. Tropical diseases faded from medical consciousness and vanished from public awareness in the U.S. and other rich countries of the world. Most of the tropical diseases have become neglected by the dawn of the millennium.
Due to the nature of these neglected diseases of poverty they can go unnoticed for years. As poverty, social factors, climate and geography combine to bring tropical diseases out in the open once again in the South of the U.S., politicians, physicians and the general public need to take the warning signs seriously.
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