Reviewing a Decade of Outpatient Tropical Medicine in Houston, Texas

Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2022 Feb 28;106(4):1049-1056. doi: 10.4269/ajtmh.21-1059. Online ahead of print.


Tropical diseases cause significant morbidity among the world's poorest populations. Although more common in low- and middle-income countries, tropical diseases are also found among underserved populations living in high-income countries such as the United States. The National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and the Harris Health System founded a tropical medicine clinic-the Harris Health Tropical Medicine Clinic (HHTMC)-in Houston in 2011 in response to tropical disease-related morbidity in Texas. We conducted a retrospective chart review of a sample of patients older than 18 years of age who were referred to the HHTMC between October 2011 and January 2020. Of the 523 patients reviewed, 185 (35.4%) had mycobacterial infections, 184 (35.2%) had parasitic infections, 38 (7.3%) had fungal infections, 16 (3.1%) had eosinophilia without a confirmed clinical diagnosis, 28 (5.4%) had bacterial infections, and 13 (2.5%) had viral infections. The most common infections overall were extrapulmonary and latent tuberculosis (n = 169), neurocysticercosis (n = 78), strongyloidiasis (n = 28), Chagas disease (n = 25), and schistosomiasis (n = 12). The epidemiology of tropical diseases in the United States is understudied at national and regional levels. This 10-year retrospective study contributes to bridging this knowledge gap by detailing the frequencies of tropical disease diagnoses made at the HHTMC in Houston, TX. These data highlight areas for advancement in the field of tropical medicine within the United States, such as improving front-line health-care provider education; establishing tropical medicine clinics in areas of high prevalence such as the Gulf Coast, Appalachia, and urban areas; and developing comprehensive, systematic national tropical disease screening programs and patient registries.