Referred to as neglected because they have been around for years without much attention toward their prevention or treatment, neglected tropical diseases can go unnoticed with few or mild symptoms and low rates of mortality. But they can also be debilitating and could impair physical and cognitive development in children who may already be facing other challenges.
Hotez's institution addresses how poor housing conditions, inadequate sanitation and contaminated environments make impoverished communities more susceptible to neglected tropical diseases.
A 2014 study authored by Hotez and published in the journal PLOS found that tropical disease was prevalent among the poorest populations living in the world's top 20 major economies.
In the U.S., many of the nation's 45 million impoverished Americans live in warm, humid Southern states where mosquitoes, often the carriers of these diseases, thrive, said Dr. Susan McLellan, associate professor of tropical medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine.
Since 2006, the U.S. has helped fund a global effort to donate drugs that prevent or treat the seven most prevalent neglected tropical diseases, including hookworm, trachoma, river blindness and elephantiasis.
The program also addresses environmental factors, such as access to clean water.
But many of those approaches are not employed in the U.S., where there's a lack of awareness of the prevalence of tropical diseases and the devastation felt in impoverished areas.
Cases of chikungunya, for which there is no vaccine or cure, have been steadily rising in the U.S. since the first confirmed case in the Western Hemisphere was identified in 2013. Endemic in Africa and Asia for decades, the number of U.S. cases reached more than 2,700 last year, according to the CDC. As of last week, 39 states had reported a total of 510 cases this year.
Dengue fever, a disease that's affected 300 million people in Southeast Asia and Latin America, has been of particular concern to U.S. epidemiologists.