March 28, 2012
A New Clinic in Houston has been Established to Fight These Infections
Washington D.C., March 27, 2012— A paper jointly published in Public Library of Science (PLoS) called for increased attention to diseases that infect people living in poverty in Texas and Mexico. According to the authors of the paper, increased surveillance, improved education for healthcare workers and new therapies are necessary in order to control the high rates of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) like Chagas disease, dengue fever, leishmaniasis and hookworm.
Hundreds of thousands of people living in Texas, as well as millions more in southern Mexico, have NTDs. However, according to the paper’s authors, the burden of these diseases in the region is likely an underestimate.
NTDs are bacterial and parasitic diseases that tend to impact the world's poorest populations, often because they lack adequate housing and sanitation infrastructure like air conditioning, window screens and running water. For example, in Texas, those living below the poverty line have the highest rates of NTD infection in the state.
“NTDs aren’t the sort of diseases we normally hear about in the United States,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, Director of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “But these diseases have a significant impact on the health, development and productivity of communities. They can prevent people from escaping the cycle of poverty.”
Increasingly, NTDs are becoming endemic, or are being transferred from person to person within the same area, in the poorest regions of Texas and southern Mexico. This is especially true for insect-borne diseases like Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and dengue fever. These diseases can be found throughout Texas, where researchers have found a high level of infection in the insects and other animals. In Mexico, NTDs are most common in the southern states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca. These three states are also the poorest in the country.
According to the authors of the paper, better surveillance of infected people and vectors is needed to understand the true NTD burden in both Texas and Mexico. It is estimated that up to 6 million people could be infected with Chagas disease in Mexico, mostly in the southern region, and up to 267,000 people are infected with Chagas disease in Texas. Cutaneous leishmaniasis, a skin infection that causes painful open sores, is also endemic but underreported in both Mexico and South Texas, while dengue may also be widespread both in Texas and Mexico.
Extensive poverty found throughout parts of affected areas of Mexico and Texas appears to be the major social determinant for these NTDs. Accordingly, the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine launched a new tropical medicine clinic for patients with NTDs, which has been established at the Ben Taub General Hospital, the public hospital of Houston.
“Increased surveillance will help us determine the resources necessary to eliminate NTDs as public health threats,” said Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, associate dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine and a professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and Director of Product Development at the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development. “Without improved understanding of the burden of these diseases, they, and the people who are infected, will continue to be neglected. Most importantly, healthcare workers in both Mexico and Texas need to be educated about NTDs in order to properly diagnose these potentially life-threatening diseases and monitor their prevalence.”
If left untreated, Chagas disease can lead to heart failure and fatal digestive disorders; risks that can be passed down to a mother’s unborn child. Dengue fever and hookworm have milder symptoms, but multiple infections throughout a person’s lifetime can lead to learning and developmental problems, preventing children and adults from leading productive lives.
In addition to improved surveillance and health care system knowledge, authors of the PLoS paper pressed for continued development of new control methods. Several institutions in Texas and Mexico have initiated the development of new vaccines. Recently, the Instituto Carlos Slim de la Salud (Carlos Slim Health Institute) launched a joint U.S.-Mexico initiative to develop vaccines for Chagas disease and leishmaniasis. This commitment builds on progress made by the Sabin Vaccine Institute and its partners to develop a vaccine against human hookworm.
“High infection rates of major NTDs in both Mexico and Texas afford an opportunity for joint cooperation to address these debilitating diseases. By combining our resources, we will be better equipped to develop effective vaccines and other treatments to combat NTDs,” explained Dr. Roberto Tapia-Conyer, Director General of the Carlos Slim Health Institute. “Our partnerships have the potential to improve the lives of more than 100 million people living in poverty in Texas and further south in Latin America.”
According to Dr. Hotez, because research and surveillance data on NTDs is so disparate across the region, collaboration and research is the best path towards understanding and eliminating these diseases.
“Ultimately ending these diseases can mean ending poverty in the region,” concluded Dr. Hotez.
To read the full study please visit http://www.plosntds.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pntd.0001497
NTDs are a group of 17 parasitic and bacterial infections that are the most common afflictions of the world's poorest people. They blind, disable and disfigure their victims, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and disease. Research shows that treating NTDs lifts millions out of poverty by ensuring that children stay in school to learn and prosper; by strengthening worker productivity; and by improving maternal and child health.
About Sabin Vaccine Institute
Sabin Vaccine Institute is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization of scientists, researchers, and advocates dedicated to reducing needless human suffering caused by vaccine preventable and neglected tropical diseases. Sabin works with governments, leading public and private organizations, and academic institutions to provide solutions for some of the world's most pervasive health challenges. Since its founding in 1993 in honor of the oral polio vaccine developer, Dr. Albert B. Sabin, the Institute has been at the forefront of efforts to control, treat, and eliminate these diseases by developing new vaccines, advocating use of existing vaccines, and promoting increased access to affordable medical treatments. For more information please visit www.sabin.org.
About Baylor College of Medicine
Baylor College of Medicine (www.bcm.edu) in Houston is recognized as a premier academic health science center and is known for excellence in education, research and patient care. It is the only private medical school in the greater southwest and is ranked as one of the top 25 medical schools for research in U.S. News & World Report. BCM is listed 17th among all U.S. medical schools for National Institutes of Health funding, and No. 2 in the nation in federal funding for research and development in the biological sciences at universities and colleges by the National Science Foundation. Located in the Texas Medical Center, BCM has affiliations with eight teaching hospitals. Currently, BCM trains more than 3,000 medical, graduate, nurse anesthesia, and physician assistant students, as well as residents and post-doctoral fellows. Follow Baylor College of Medicine on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/BaylorCollegeOfMedicine) and twitter (http://twitter.com/BCMHouston).
About Texas Children’s Hospital
Texas Children's Hospital is committed to a community of healthy children by providing the finest pediatric patient care, education and research. Renowned worldwide for its expertise and breakthrough developments in clinical care and research, Texas Children's is nationally ranked in all ten subspecialties in U.S. News & World Report's list of America's Best Children's Hospitals. Texas Children's also operates the nation's largest primary pediatric care network, with more than 40 offices throughout the greater Houston community. Texas Children's has embarked on a $1.5 billion expansion, Vision 2010, which includes the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute™, a comprehensive obstetrics facility focusing on high-risk births and a community hospital in suburban West Houston. For more information on Texas Children's Hospital, go to www.texaschildrens.org. Get the latest news from Texas Children's Hospital by visiting the online newsroom and on Twitter at twitter.com/texaschildrens.
About Instituto Carlos Slim de la Salud (Carlos Slim Health Insitute)
The Carlos Slim Health Institute is a Mexican nonprofit organization that fosters sustainable development through the implementation of health-related initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean to make sure that more people have a better lifestyle.
Following up on the recommendations expressed by the Comisión para el Futuro de las Vacunas en América Latina (Commission for the future of vaccines in Latin America) the Institute favors the consolidation of public-private alliances towards the development of biotechnological products. Its partnership with the Texas Children’s Hospital, the Sabine Vaccine Institute, and the Baylor College of Medicine will contribute to strengthen their capacity to translate the results of scientific research into production, technology transfer for mass production, and distribution of vaccines against NTDs.