World Cup Watch: Event draws attention to neglected tropical diseases

June 24, 2014


While thousands flock to Brazil for the World Cup games, many health care workers are worried about more than which team will take home the trophy. NTDs like Dengue and Chagas are plaguing the citizens of Brazil – putting a definite damper on the spirit of the games.

“The theme of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil is ‘all in one rhythm.’ So far that rhythm could leave behind millions of Chagas disease sufferers in the Americas,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, Texas Children’s Hospital endowed chair in Tropical Pediatrics. Hotez’ recent article about Chagas disease, which is a leading cause of severe and life-threatening heart disease in the Americas, was published on, and brings to light the fact that more than 1 million people in Brazil suffer from Chagas.

Also of great concern is the surge in cases of dengue fever in Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo. Certain strains of the disease, which is carried by female mosquitoes, can be fatal and there is currently no treatment or vaccine. Despite government efforts as of late to control mosquitos with powerful pesticides, the dengue epidemic is sweeping through Brazil, and many worry that international visitors could contract the disease and bring it back to their home countries.

“Several multinational pharmaceutical companies, even Brazil’s Instituto Butantan, are working to make a prototype dengue vaccine, but these will not be ready in time for the World Cup,” said Hotez. “In the meantime, measures aimed at mosquito control and personal protective measures against mosquitos are all that are available.”

Back here in Houston, fear of dengue spreading to the U.S. feels all too real, especially in light of evidence found by our own Dr. Kristy Murray, associate professor of pediatric tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, which suggests that dengue has re-emerged in Houston. Murray and her team investigated the possibility that dengue might be in Houston because the area has the type of mosquitoes known to carry the virus and a dense population full of frequent travelers south of the border. But the study, published this past fall, found that most of the infections were transmitted in Houston.

“This study shows that Houston may be at risk of an outbreak, that people need to be on the lookout,” said Murray.

Beyond NTDs like dengue and Chagas, many in the health care field see Brazil’s hosting of the World Cup as a time to put the spotlight on the various diseases that impact (and often kill) children in Brazil and the Americas – some as simple as diarrhea and pneumonia, which can be prevented through vaccines.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) launched a World Cup-themed report last month, designed to draw parallels between the shots, saves and goals made on the field and the shots (vaccines) needed to save lives and help achieve GAVI’s big goals. The report, “Going for Goal: Immunization and the Case for GAVI,” looks at each team playing in this summer’s World Cup (as well as a few others who didn’t make the cut), analyzing their countries’ contributions to global immunization efforts and offering up “pundit’s verdicts” for their future performance.

So while sports fans may be fired up whenever their team scores over the next few weeks, here at Texas Children’s, we’ll be cheering on organizations that are working to ensure children in Brazil, and everywhere, get the vaccines they need – a goal worth celebrating.

Those who are traveling to Brazil this summer, or want to know more about the diseases mentioned in this article, should visit the Travel Clinic at Texas Children’s.