A group of neglected infections are emerging as important causes of psychiatric and mental illness among vulnerable populations living in extreme poverty in the United States. These chronic infections may partially account for the achievement gap noted among socioeconomically disadvantaged students. The neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of chronic parasitic and related infections that can last decades or even the lifetime of an individual.
This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a new initiative that targets parasitic diseases in the United States. Coinciding with the publication of a series of articles in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (AJTMH), the new CDC initiative will prioritize five major parasitic diseases — Chagas disease, cysticercosis, toxocariasis, toxoplasmosis and trichomoniasis — which are considered neglected because they mainly impact Americans who live in extreme poverty, especially in the southern United States and in degraded urban areas of major U.S. cities. CDC’s renewed commitment to these diseases is extremely welcome, and I especially want to congratulate the dynamic leadership of their Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria including Drs. Monica Parise and Larry Slutsker, who lead these activities.
In 1962, an estimated 40 million Americans lived in poverty, almost one-quarter of the US population. Today, the poverty rate in the US is roughly half of what it was when The Other America was first published, however, the total number of people living in poverty remains about the same. We now recognize that this group of 36.5 million impoverished Americans is at higher risk for heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases compared to the rest of the US population. However, it is not well known that just as the poorest people in the low-income countries of Africa, Asia, and Central and South America have the highest rates of the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), there is evidence to suggest that large numbers of the poorest Americans living in the US also suffer from some of these unique infections.