Page last updated at 06:51 GMT, Wednesday, 25 June 2008 07:51 UK

US poor most at risk from disease

By Emilio San Pedro
BBC Americas editor

Children in Port Sulphur, Louisiana 28 May
The study says 36 million people in the US could be at risk

Poor people in the United States are increasingly at risk from tropical diseases such as dengue fever and Chagas disease, says a new report.

Researchers blame climate change and increasing poverty for the increased spread of these infectious illnesses.

The study warns that while these diseases are not always fatal, they are severely debilitating.

Consequently, they perpetuate poverty, affecting child development and worker productivity, researchers say.

Dr Peter Hotez, who led the study published in a leading American medical journal, said that 36 million people in the US who live below the poverty line were most at risk from these parasitic and bacterial diseases.

He said most vulnerable are minority groups such as the African American community living along the delta of the Mississippi River, but also disadvantaged white people who live in the Appalachian mountains and immigrants who live along the US-Mexico border.

Dr Hotez said while US spends more than a billion dollars a year preparing for outbreaks of diseases that have yet to occur such as small pox, avian influenza and anthrax, these other diseases continue to affect millions with little or no attention paid to them.

This amounts to a form of unintended racism on the part of the government, said Hotez, adding that it is time these diseases were taken seriously.

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