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They include ascariasis, the most common human worm infection. It is caused by a parasitic worm that lives in the intestine, and infected just under 4 million people in 1974 according to the last survey, in the South and Appalachia.
Toxocariasis, a roundworm parasite transmitted in dog droppings, infected up 2.8 million poor black children living in inner cities, the South and Appalachia, Hotez said. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates these roundworms, which can cause intestinal illness and blindness, infect up to 14 percent of the U.S. population.
Strongyloidiasis is caused by a threadworm that lives throughout the body and infects 68,000 to 100,000 people. It may cause a hyper-immune reaction in some people.
Cysticercosis caused by the pork tapeworm and giardiasis, a diarrheal illness caused by a one-celled parasite, are also common, Hotez said.
One threat to babies is cytomegalovirus, which infects 27,002 newborn annually, causing deafness and mental retardation.
"It's amazing what we tolerate," Hotez said. He noted the United States spends $1 billion a year preparing for outbreaks of diseases that have not occurred, including smallpox, anthrax and avian influenza.
"But these (other) diseases are occurring among voiceless people," he said. "It's an unintended form of racism in a sense. We need to make these disease household words."
Chagas disease, caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, infects as many as 8 to 11 million people in Latin America and may become a U.S. threat, Hotez said. "In Louisiana, almost 30 percent of the armadillos and 38 percent of the opossums are infected with T. cruzi, and a case of Chagas disease was recently reported in post-Katrina New Orleans," he wrote.