Baylor College of Medicine News

Neglected parasitic infections at forefront of public health action

Peter J. Hotez, M.D., Ph.D., Dean, National School of Tropical Medicine

The National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine was established in 2011 to address neglected tropical diseases and other infections through education, research and clinical care. Today, in response to the estimated numbers of people living in the United States affected by neglected parasitic infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has targeted five such infections as a priority for public health action.

“Houston and Texas in many respects represent ‘ground zero’ for many of America’s neglected tropical diseases, including parasitic infections,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine.  “We’re at the confluence of poverty and a subtropical climate - two of the major factors that promote these infections, which in reality are major health disparities in the United States. Unfortunately these diseases have been overshadowed by better known infections, even though parasitic infections are much more common. I truly welcome CDC’s renewed commitment to control and prevent them.”

The five infections include Chagas disease, cysticercosis, toxocariasis, toxoplasmosis and trichmoniasis. These diseases disproportionately affect Americans who live in extreme poverty and can cause serious illnesses including heart failure, pregnancy complications, seizures and even death.

The announcement coincides with the publication of a series of articles in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, which includes an opening editorial of which Hotez is a co-author.

The National School of Tropical Medicine’s three arms bring focus to addressing and treating these important diseases.

Through a Diploma in Tropical Medicine, health care professionals can receive training and clinical experiences that prepare them to recognize and address these diseases in their practices.

Through a product development partnership with Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, researchers are working to develop vaccines and better treatments for these diseases. Hotez serves as president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, a nonprofit organization that uses industry practices to make drugs, vaccines and diagnostics that do not generate profit because the diseases only affect the world’s poor.

Finally, at two clinics devoted to tropical diseases, the School is seeing patients in the Houston area who are affected by these diseases and helping those traveling abroad with appropriate vaccinations and medications.

Hotez also holds the Texas Children’s Hospital Endowed Chair of Tropical Pediatrics.