Tropical Diseases- General Medicine/ Check Up

Tropical diseases include the diseases which mainly occur in tropics. Tropical diseases also refer to infectious diseases which are common in hot and humid conditions. This include diseases such as schistosomiasis, taeniasis, onchocerciasis, malaria, cholera, Chagas disease, dengue, and African trypanosomiasis. Respiratory diseases (for e.g. tuberculosis, measles, respiratory syncytial virus) and sexually transmitted diseases are also of common in tropical areas. Tropical diseases are caused by parasites, pathogens, viruses, and bacteria.

An infectious diseases specialist (ID) is the medical specialist who should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases.

Some of the common tropical diseases are described below.

Schistosomiasis: It is caused by several species of flatworms of the genus Schistosoma. Initial symptoms include blood in the urine or stool, anemia and eventually become life-threatening due to damage to liver and kidneys. This condition can be controlled by providing access to clean water, improved sanitation, and hygiene education.

Taeniasis: It is caused by adult tapeworms. It is a type of intestinal infection. Symptoms may include nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation. Praziquantel or niclosamide is used for the treatment of this condition.

Onchocerciasis: It is an infection caused by a worm transmitted by blackflies. Symptoms include severe itching, disfiguring skin lesions, and eye disease that can cause blindness.

Malaria: It is caused by protozoa of genus Plasmodium. Malaria caused by P. falciparum is the most dangerous form and leads to majority of deaths.  Symptoms include chills, fever, and sweating. Antimalarial medicines such as sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine or other medicines may be prescribed depending on the patient.

Cholera: It is a bacterial infection caused by Vibrio cholera. This condition is basically a diarrheal disease that causes severe watery diarrhea which can lead to dehydration and death if left untreated. Vibrio cholera is generally found in contaminated water and it produces toxins which upsets the biochemical balance of cells lining the intestine and causes diarrhea. Treatment mainly includes replacement of lost water, salts and sugar. Oral rehydration solution (ORS) is generally used in patients to treat dehydration.

Dengue: It is caused by a mosquito-borne flavivirus.  Patient would have flu-like symptoms such as severe pain in the head, eyes, muscles and joints. Infants and children may develop "dengue hemorrhagic fever" which is a severe condition that may cause circulatory failure and shock. There isn’t any specific treatment for dengue fever. Patient’s body fluid volume should be maintained appropriately.

Chagas disease:  It is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi and is also known as American trypanosomiasis. During acute phase, symptoms may not be visible. During chronic phase, patient may suffer from cardiac disorders or neurological or digestive alterations. During acute phase this disease can be treated with benznidazole and nifurtimox. Antiparasitic treatment may prevent or curb disease progression during chronic phase.

African trypanosomiasis:  It is also known as sleeping sickness. It is a vector-borne parasitic disease and is caused by infection with protozoan parasites from the genus Trypanosoma. Symptoms include confusion, sensory disturbances, poor coordination, and disturbance in sleep cycle. Pentamidine and suramin is used in the first stage of the disease. Melarsoprol, eflornithine, and nifurtimox is used in the second stage of the disease.

Tuberculosis: It is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis which mainly affects the lungs. Pulmonary tuberculosis is very common and is associated with symptoms such as weight loss, severe cough, difficulty in breathing, fatigue etc. This disease can be treated but it requires treatment for a long period of time.



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About the Author:

Dr. Anand Lakhkar is a physician scientist from India. He completed his basic medical education from India and his postgraduate training in pharmacology from the United States. He has a MS degree in pharmacology from New York Medical College, a MS degree in Cancer/Neuro Pharmacology from Georgetown University and a PhD in Pharmacology from New York Medical College where he was the recipient of the Graduate Faculty Council Award for academic and research excellence.  His research area of expertise is in pulmonary hypertension, traumatic brain injury and cardiovascular pharmacology.  He has multiple publications in international peer-reviewed journals and has presented his research at at prestigious conferences.