Study will examine ‘diseases of poverty’ in southern United States

Illustration by Anne Fu, Research Communications and Public Relations

Researchers at the Bush School of Government and Public Service and the Baylor College of Medicine are conducting the largest study in over half a century on the prevalence of neglected tropical diseases in the southern United States.

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), also known as diseases of poverty, affect one billion people globally. Although commonly thought of as a problem of the developing world, an estimated 12 million Americans are living with at least one NTD, and most of these individuals are concentrated in the South.

The American South possesses a specific combination of risk factors that create a breeding ground for various NTDs. Inadequate housing and poor sanitation are major factors related to infection with NTDs, and these factors are significant problems in many impoverished areas of the southern United States.

Christine Crudo Blackburn, an assistant research scientist with the Scowcroft Institute, is leading the study to determine the prevalence of toxocariasis, hookworm, and ascariasis, as well as the social and environmental factors that allow for their existence in the southern US.

Rojelio Mejia, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Director of the Laboratory of Clinical Parasitology and Diagnostics at Baylor College of Medicine, led a 2017 study on the prevalence of hookworm in Lowndes County, Alabama. He oversees the laboratory testing of all collected samples for this study

Because NTDs in the United States exist in areas of extreme poverty, Blackburn and Mejia focused their research on rural areas of the southern United States with median family incomes of under $25,000.

To date, the study contains participating communities from three southern states and is in the process of enrolling additional communities from four other states.

Once completed, the study will provide a more accurate picture of the problem of NTDs in the United States.

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