The first time I heard the word dengue was when my cousin was a few days old. My mother was on the phone conversing with my uncle on various methods he could employ to protect his newborn, such as keeping him covered as much as possible. I didn’t think much of it at the time, simply because the word “dengue” was absent from my American vocabulary. Unless a health topic was discussed in the classroom or at home with our parents, it basically ceased to exist to me.
Now, as a healthcare student, I realize the importance of learning more about the diseases that dominate the tropics. More than a billion people are affected by them, yet the majority of the remaining 6.9 billion have no clue of their existence and the detrimental impact they have. Neglected Tropical Diseases, abbreviated as NTDs, are responsible for thousands of deaths, all of which could be easily prevented if the right resources were both available and accessible. NTDs are generally caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, and toxins. They can be spread via indirect transmission from mosquitoes, flies, and other insects.
Here is a basic rundown of some of the neglected tropical diseases that plague many communities across the globe.
Chikungunya: This is a viral disease that is transmitted by infected mosquitoes. It is principally found in Africa and the Indian subcontinent. The most common symptoms are joint pain and fever. Secondary symptoms include joint swelling, headaches, nausea, fatigue, muscle pain, and rashes. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine against this virus, thus the only method of treatment is to relieve the symptoms the patient is facing as much as possible.
Dengue: This is a viral infection that is also transmitted by infected mosquitoes. In some Asian and Latin American countries, dengue is known to be the primary cause of death and serious illness. There are four variations of the virus, therefore a person can be infected up to four times in their lifetime. There is no treatment for the disease, however, early detection can significantly decrease the chances of the virus worsening.
Dracunculiasis: Also known as guinea-worm disease, this is a parasitic disease that is on the cusp of being completely eliminated. Approximately a year later after infection, blisters form on your foot and female worms emerge, accompanied by a burning sensation. The cause of infection is attributed to people drinking stagnant drinking water that is full of parasitic water fleas.
Elephantiasis: Also recognized as lymphatic filariasis, this disease damages the lymphatic system, which protects the body against illness. This parasitic infection enlarges some body parts, causing lots of body pain in addition to forming a disability in some people. Elephantiasis can only be treated with preventative chemotherapy.
Mycetoma: This is a chronic disease that can be contracted from a variety of bacteria and fungi species. Mycetoma is prevalent in areas that have short rainy seasons followed by long dry seasons. People who reside in endemic regions are recommended to never walk barefoot, in order to avoid receiving punctures on their feet. Although there is no cure, early detection of the infectious disease can significantly reduce chances of death and improve treatment outcomes.
Trachoma: This is a disease that specifically affects the eye and is caused by infection, specifically from the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. This infection is spread through flies who have been in contact with nasal or eye discharge, or through direct contact between infected and non-infected individuals. The strategy that is being used to eliminate trachoma includes advanced eye surgery, antibiotics, and facial cleanliness.
One of the ways we can help reduce the risk of infection among impoverished communities is to ensure these communities have adequate access to clean water and basic sanitation commodities. This means implementing sanitation facilities that regulate the proper disposal of sewage and latrine waste. It involves educating communities on hygiene, such as washing your hands with soap and water. Another method that can be utilized is spraying pesticides on places where vectors, which are organisms that transmit infectious diseases, breed and gather. Bed nets are another way to reduce the risk of transmission from vectors, since they act as a physical barrier. Lastly, access to good medical care is essential in order to treat these diseases in a timely fashion with the best medications and treatments possible to ensure that every patient can have a good quality of life.
The CDC provides additional details on all NTDs including how they are transmitted, the symptoms, who is at risk for exposure, and treatment options. To stay up to date on the latest news regarding the control of Neglected Tropical Diseases, you can visit The World Health Organization’s website.