3 Things Pharmacists Should Know About Neglected Tropical Diseases

JANUARY 11, 2016
The World Health Organization classifies 17 diseases as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), which are a diverse group of communicable diseases that affect more than 1 billion individuals in 149 countries.1
NTDs disproportionately affect those living in poverty, who often have inadequate sanitation and come in close contact with animals and insects that can transmit disease.
Since many NTDs never appear in pharmacy school textbooks, here are 3 things you need to know about them:
1. Tropical Does Not Mean Exotic
Just because these communicable diseases are most often transmitted in the tropics and subtropics doesn’t mean they are only encountered there. Many NTDs affect patients in the United States, Canada, and Europe, particularly immigrants from endemic regions.2
One example is Chagas disease, which primarily affects immigrants from Latin America.3
Chagas disease, or American trypanosomiasis, is caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi and most commonly transmitted by the blood-feeding triatomine bug, though it can also be transmitted through transfusion of contaminated blood, organ transplantation, and congenitally from mother to child.
There is both an acute and chronic phase of the disease. In the chronic phase, patients may develop cardiac complications (eg, arrhythmias and heart failure) and gastrointestinal complications (eg, dilation of the esophagus or colon).
Although approximately 8 million individuals are infected in Latin America, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 300,000 people in the United States have Chagas disease.
If you have a substantial patient population from Mexico, Central America, or South America, you will very likely encounter a patient with undiagnosed or diagnosed Chagas disease at some point.

Matthew Romo, PharmD, MPH
Matthew Romo, PharmD, MPH
Matthew L. Romo, PharmD, MPH, is a pharmacist and epidemiologist experienced in international and immigrant health. He received his pharmacy degree from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and his public health degree from the CUNY School of Public Health.