Texas A&M hosts conference to educate health professionals on infectious diseases threatening Texas

April 25, 2015

Ebola, chikungunya, dengue fever and malaria were once of concern only to those who live in or travel to tropical regions. But now, as witnessed in the recent Ebola scare, these highly infectious diseases are posing a threat to domestic soil. New evidence indicates that the Gulf Coast of the Southern U.S. is under increasing threat from diseases thought previously to affect only developing countries.

In response to this threat, the Texas A&M Health Science Center is hosting the Tropical and Infectious Diseases Impacting Texas conference in Corpus Christi, Texas, Friday, April 24 and Saturday, April 25, to provide physicians and other health professionals with the knowledge necessary to identify and treat these diseases.

Scott Lillibridge

Scott Lillibridge, M.D., special assistant to the CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center, is serving as the Tropical and Infectious Diseases Impacting Texas conference course director

“Our unique South Texas region requires vigilance against both routine infectious diseases as well as against illnesses caused by West Nile Virus and Chagas Disease that were once thought to be only tropical diseases,” said Scott Lillibridge, M.D., the conference course director and special assistant to the CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center.

Tropical diseases tend to prosper in areas stricken by poverty. Various factors, including the large immigrant population in South Texas and the growing number of families living under the poverty level in substandard conditions, can be attributed to the emergence of these diseases in Texas. Many tropical infections can be chronic, debilitating conditions. Affected individuals can become too ill to work, and children can experience a reduction in cognition, which leads to a vicious continuing cycle of poverty and associated conditions for these individuals. Physicians and other health professionals need to be able to identify the symptoms of these diseases, as well as treat them, since they can mimic other conditions and symptoms that are not traditional diagnoses found in the U.S.

“The Tropical and Infectious Diseases conference offers practical advice on emerging infectious diseases that pose a risk to the population of South Texas,” Lillibridge said. “We also are discussing the latest in flu preparedness and planning, which is important to the health of our area.”

The event includes a keynote address by Peter Hotez, M.D., Ph.D., an internationally renowned scientist, pediatrician, and leading advocate and expert in the fields of global health, vaccinology, and neglected tropical disease control. Hotez will highlight his new role as U.S. Science Envoy for the White House and State Department, focusing on infections arising out of the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. Additionally, he’ll discuss the “most important diseases you’ve never heard of,” which he categorizes as neglected tropical diseases, often borne of poverty: Toxocariasis, Cysticercosis, Chagas Disease, Toxoplasmosis, and Trichomoniasis. These diseases afflict more than 12 million Americans and are becoming more prevalent throughout the U.S. Gulf Coast region.

“The Ebola virus has risen to top of mind for Americans and U.S. physicians in recent months; however, that isn’t the disease that keeps me awake at night” said Hotez, who is dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital Endowed Chair of Tropical Pediatrics. “I am concerned about the millions of people in the United States with neglected tropical diseases that aren’t being diagnosed or treated. We must develop appropriate point-of-care diagnostics for these disease, all the while increasing awareness among physicians who serve as the first line of defense for these patients.”

The conference, which counts toward health professional’s continuing education requirements, aims to raise awareness among primary care, family practice, pediatric and infectious disease physicians and nurse practitioners, physician assistants and pharmacists in the Gulf Coast and Southern U.S. regions.

— Debbie Field

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