Much of the wealthiest nation in the world is little better than a third world country. Concerned by the health implications, the National School of Tropical Medicine in Houston, Texas, to conduct experiments in the Lowndes County, Alabama. They tested the soil and water, and took blood and faecal samples. They found at least five tropical parasites. The poor living conditions are exacerbated by a climate that combines increasingly high temperatures with heavy rainfall, creating a good environment for parasites to breed.
Alabama is one of the five Gulf coast states that shoulder the burden of neglected tropical diseases in the US. Some scientists say these are an under-appreciated problem in the world’s largest economy. Among the parasites found in Lowndes County were helminths — intestinal worms that infect humans and are transmitted through contaminated soil, such as hookworm, whipworm and ascaris. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says hookworm was widespread in the southeastern US until the early 20th century and is now “nearly eliminated”. But Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, warns against complacency and estimates as many as 12m Americans are living with a poverty-related neglected tropical disease. “Most of the world’s neglected diseases are in the world’s G20 countries,” he says. “The concept of global health needs to give way to a new paradigm: on the new map, Texas and the Gulf coast would be lit up as a hotspot.”
He says. “If this were happening in wealthy suburbs like Westchester, New York, we would never tolerate it, but because it’s happening in flyover America and the Gulf coast, people don’t care much about it.”