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Neglected Tropical Diseases

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Photo credit: Brian Colombe

Neglected Tropical Diseases

Little Known but Deadly Health Threats

By: Allison Kozicharow; Edited by Jessie Crowdy

Today COVID-19 dominates the world health stage, but equally deadly neglected tropical diseases affect more than one billion people in many countries where  WiRED International distributes its health training material.

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Tropical and sub-tropical populations living in poverty — without adequate sanitation and in close contact with infectious vectors, such as mosquitoes, and domestic animals and livestock — are being overwhelmed by diseases unfamiliar to many, including Chagas disease, dengue and chikungunya.

The World Health Organization marked the premiere of World Chagas Day this week in order to promote public awareness. Chagas disease, also called American trypanosomiasis, is caused by parasitic insects and occurs mostly in the Americas, particularly in South America. The disease can present a skin lesion or a purplish swelling of the lid of one eye, fever, headache, enlarged lymph glands, pallor, muscle pain, difficulty in breathing, swelling and abdominal or chest pain.

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The global incidence of dengue has grown dramatically in recent decades. It begins as a fever and is brought on by four related viruses that are spread by mosquitoes. These mosquitoes thrive in and near human habitations, where they breed in even the cleanest water. Most dengue infections produce only mild illness, but at times acute flu-like symptoms occur that can develop into a potentially lethal complication, called severe dengue.

Chikungunya is a virus transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes. The main symptoms of the disease are fever and severe joint pain. Chikungunya shares some clinical signs with dengue and zika and can often be misdiagnosed in areas where dengue is common. There is no cure for chikungunya, so treatment focuses on relieving symptoms.

WiRED offers free health training on all three of these frequently ignored tropical diseases. To learn more about these infections, their prevention and treatment, go to WiRED’s modules on Chagas disease, dengue and chikungunya. WiRED also provides a whole series of modules on infectious diseases.