CDC names five lesser-known infections as public health 'priorities'

One infection already affects 60 million U.S. residents

CDC recently labeled five types of lesser-known parasitic infections as priorities for public health action, warning that hundreds of thousands of U.S. residents could be at risk of infection.

Parasitic infections affect millions of people worldwide and can cause blindness, infertility, heart failure, seizures, and even death, according to CDC Director Tom Frieden.

While such infections are "more common in the U.S. than people realize," Frieden notes that much about them remains a mystery because symptoms often go unnoticed or undiagnosed. In addition, many doctors fail to diagnose or treat the infections properly because they are unfamiliar with them.

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The five 'priority' parasitic infections

U.S. health officials identified the five priority parasitic infections based on the number of people infected, the illness' severity, and physicians' ability to prevent and treat the infections. The infections are:

  • Chagas disease: More than 300,000 U.S. residents are infected with the parasite that causes this disease, but most are unaware.

  • Neurocysticercosis: At least 1,000 people have been hospitalized for symptomatic cysticercosis, a tissue infection transmitted by the pork tapeworm.

  • Toxocariasis: About 14% of U.S. residents have been exposed to Toxocara, the parasite that causes toxocariasis, an infection from the canine and feline roundworm. Each year, at least 70 Americans are blinded by resulting eye disease.

  • Toxoplasmosis: More than 60 million people are chronically infected with the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, which can cause birth defects if pregnant women are infected. Infections in people with weakened immune systems can be deadly.

  • Trichomoniasis. The sexually transmitted infection caused by the parasite Trichomonas affects about 3.7 million people. It can cause pregnancy problems and increase the risk of contracting other STIs, including HIV.

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How CDC is helping hospitals fight the parasites

According to HealthDay, the CDC actions to reduce prevent the spread of the five parasitic infections include:

  • Increasing awareness among doctors and the general public;
  • Improving diagnosis methods;
  • Providing advice on treatment options; and
  • Analyzing data to better understand the infections.

Writing in a special supplement to the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, CDC researchers said, "The [neglected parasitic infections] in the United States are part of the global burden of parasitic diseases, and strategies that reduce or eliminate them in the United States can someday be applied globally" (Preidt, Health Day, 5/8).

How hospitals are preventing infections

See our archive of resources on how to prevent infections, including these popular Daily Briefing stories:

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