July 16, 2008

Neglected Diseases of Poverty, More Than Just a Developing Nation Problem

Similar to the Neglected Tropical Diseases (or NTDs) that plague developing nations, neglected infections of poverty exist in the United States and are impairing the physical, emotional and mental development of African American and Hispanic children nationwide. In the June 2008 edition of Public Library of Science’ Neglected Tropical Diseases journal, Dr. Peter Hotez identifies these diseases of poverty and calls on policy makers to increase measures that would support national surveillance to fully understand (and treat) the impact of these infections.

In his article, Dr. Hotez outlines the diseases causing the most damage, including toxoplasmosis, which is most common in Mexican Americans and African Americans. If a mother becomes infected with toxoplasma, for example, during her pregnancy, the newborn infant is at risk for congenital toxoplasmosis, a syndrome that can include mental retardation, as well as vision and hearing loss. Other major infections Dr. Hotez highlights include: helminth (or worm) infections, strongyloidiasis, ascariasis, cysticercosis, intestinal protozoan infection trichomoniasis, and some zoonotic bacterial infections, including leptospirosis. Vector-borne infections such as Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, trench fever, and dengue fever, as well as the congenital infections cytomegalovirus (CMV), toxoplasmosis, and syphilis are also reviewed.

“Due to lack of knowledge and political will to study this problem, these diseases of poverty have been allowed to simply remain neglected….if these diseases were common among the wealthy in the suburbs we would never tolerate it,” said Dr. Hotez.

Currently, there is a lack of data on exactly how pervasive these problems are and the need exists to increase surveillance. According to Dr. Hotez, people will continue to get sick unless politicians and scientists can determine which populations are at the greatest risk, assess the burden of the diseases already infecting people in the U.S. and identify a cost-effective public health solution.

Major news media outlets picked up this story, and detailed reports and interviews on this topic appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and Reuters.

Read the full article, “Neglected Infections and Poverty in the United States of America.”

Protecting Public Trust in Vaccines

While vaccination rates in the U.S. remain statistically high, there is a strong need to continue reinforcing the vast public health benefits proven over decades of vaccine development and use. To address growing concerns, Sabin focused its annual colloquium on "Protecting Public Trust in Immunizations." The meeting took place in late 2007, resulting in a special report for Pediatrics (July 2008). The follow-up report was assembled by the colloquium co-chairs Louis Z. Cooper, Heidi Jane Larson and Samuel L. Katz, and discusses what government, industry and non-profit groups can do to encourage public support of immunizations.

The report recommends investment in immunization-safety science, which includes research on the short- and long-term risks and benefits of vaccine combinations and timing of multiple vaccines. Other recommendations include emphasis being placed on effective communication within the vaccine community to ensure all aspects of the issue are presented to the public in a clear and reliable manner.

To read the full article, click here.

Fathering Autism - A Washington Post Exclusive

Over the last year or two, with the growing debate over vaccines - allegations they contain harmful ingredients including mercury, are given too frequently and even can lead to autism - a grassroots campaign has been growing among parenting groups, which are feverishly discussing who is at fault and debating whether or not to continue vaccinating their children. Recently, the issue has gained traction with actress Jenny McCarthy's interview on CNN , where she discussed her experience as a parent of an autistic child, and outlined the need for vaccine reform.

As a parent of an autistic child, leading vaccine expert and pediatrician, Dr. Peter Hotez couldn't disagree more. In an exclusive interview with Washington Post reporter, Shankar Vedantam, Dr. Hotez talked about the realities of parenting his autistic daughter, as well offering his professional perspective on the issue.

Read "Fathering Autism" in its entirety.