This neglected but prevalent infection needs urgent attention, says a research team.
The government is stepping up its efforts to combat strongyloidiasis, a common but overlooked infection prevalent in Australia.
A $5 million Synergy grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to control and eliminate strongyloidiasis would fund the development of new diagnostic tests, said molecular parasitologist Dr Catherine Gordon, a member of the QIMR Berghofer team.
“If you don’t look for this disease, you won’t find it. To date, there has been a lack of screening, testing, and education,” explained Dr Gordon.
Australian First Nations communities have one of the highest rates of strongyloidiasis in the world. The infection, acquired from a common roundworm Strongyloides stercoralis, can cause failure to thrive in children, bacterial meningitis, sepsis and pneumonia. It can be fatal in patients who are immunocompromised.
“Strongyloidiasis is the most neglected of the neglected diseases. Despite being preventable and treatable, there is currently no national control strategy to manage its identification, prevention and management,” said Professor Darren Gray, project lead and director of QIMR Berghofer’s Population Health Program.
Strongyloidiasis is on the World Health Organization’s Neglected Tropical Diseases list, however it is not on Australia’s National Notifiable Diseases list. The Northern Territory is the only place in the country that requires notification of the disease.
Flinders University environmental health expert Professor Kirstin Ross explained that making strongyloidiasis a nationally notifiable disease would play a major part in ultimately eliminating the disease in Australia Increasing awareness of the symptoms and signs of the condition would also play in important role.
Data analysis from 2012-2016 showed that while more prevalent in the top end and outback of Australia, strongyloidiasis was a national concern with cases reported across the country.
QIMR Berghofer’s pilot elimination program will run at two sites and combine treatment, community engagement, surveillance and improvement of sanitation and hygiene. The project will also focus on other common preventable infections of poverty such as scabies and group A streptococcus.
“This research is a game-changer for the control of infectious diseases of poverty globally and could ultimately contribute to the breaking of the poverty cycle by improving health and wellbeing and increasing educational attainment and economic output,” said Professor Gray.