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How Many Neglected Tropical Diseases Are There?



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Traveling to tropical areas provides you with the chance to discover a whole new culture and its beautiful scenery and people.

However, you need to be aware of the various neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that are prevalent in tropical and sub-tropical areas. Aside from the usual protection from diseases when visiting these areas, knowing the types of NTDs there are, the risks and how to avoid them isn’t something you can look over.

So how many neglected tropical diseases are there? There are 20 diseases officially recognized as NTDs. We’ll take you through some of the most common diseases and everything you need to know about them.


First is one that many people may have heard of before, leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by bacteria. It commonly causes nerve damage and lesions on the skin.

Leprosy comes out in stages with the first stage leading to loss of sensation in facial muscles, hands, and feet while the second phase can lead to more permanent effects such as blindness and losing fingers and toes. These nasty effects can take up to 20 years to show signs so get diagnosed as soon as you can if you experience any of the stage one effects.

Leprosy is prevalent in places affected by poverty where there’s overcrowding of people and poor nutrition. If you visit any areas like this then be aware that close contact with someone for many months is how the disease is transmitted and to contact a doctor if you have any symptoms.

Sleeping sickness

Also known as African trypanosomiasis, sleeping sickness is an infection that’s transmitted through the bite of an infected tsetse fly. This type of NTD is found only in sub-Saharan Africa with an Eastern and Western variant which both cause the same symptoms.

It gets its name from the sleep disturbances it causes while it can also affect your behavior and sensory cognition. Like leprosy, sleeping sickness comes in two stages: the first stage is when parasites are found in the blood and lymphatic system while the second stage is when the parasites enter the central nervous system.

The most common early symptoms are fever, severe headaches, and fatigue. If you’re infected, it can take one to three weeks for symptoms to occur. For any disease carried by insect bites, it’s always best to wear clothing that covers almost all of your skin and carry insect repellent for the best protection.

Without treatment, sleeping sickness is considered fatal, so don’t delay in getting medical attention if you experience any symptoms.


In the number of NTDs out there, rabies is one most will have heard of but perhaps haven’t considered the dangers. It’s a fatal disease that can cause inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. It’s transmitted by a bite or scratch from an animal carrying the disease. There are two kinds of rabies:

  • Furious rabies: The most extreme kind that can cause hyperactivity and irrational fears of water and fresh air. This kind of rabies is fatal after a few days.
  • Paralytic rabies: Similar to furious rabies but tends to last longer and is often misdiagnosed and under-reported as a result.

While this disease is also common in places like the United States, it’s a more manageable disease thanks largely to vaccinating animals who carry rabies. In tropical areas, these vaccinations aren’t as readily available due to costs. If you experience any rash or itching from an animal bite/scratch then consult a doctor right away.

Intestinal worms

In tropical areas where the climate is humid will mean the soil gets warm. In places with bad sanitation, this can lead to intestinal worms affecting the general public. These worms make it hard for your body to absorb nutrients and vitamins that lead to malnutrition and anemia.

The most common intestinal worms are hookworm, roundworm, and whipworm which all pass on infection when a person’s skin comes into contact with soil containing these parasites.

The more severe infections of intestinal worms can cause abdominal pain, blood loss, and diarrhea. Thankfully these infections are fairly easily treated through medication so contact your doctor if you suspect you have symptoms of intestinal worms.

Snakebite envenoming

This type of NTD is common in tropical areas and the wildlife that lives in those areas. Snakebite envenoming can be a fatal disease when bitten by a snake or having its venom sprayed into your eyes. Bites can lead to almost immediate symptoms of paralysis of breathing, kidney failure as well as bleeding that may even lead to a permanent disability or the amputation of a limb.

Children may experience the effects of a snakebite even faster than an adult so act fast if you find yourself in this situation. You’ll need medical attention as soon as possible, antivenom is required to effectively treat a snakebite. If you’re transporting someone to be treated, apply pressure to the bite and remove anything tight around the bite in case of swelling. Snakebites are very rarely immediately fatal but the faster you act the better.


Traveling to tropical areas should be full of excitement and with enough consideration of the dangers that NTDs pose then your traveling adventures will remain fun. By sharing the information you can help yourself and others remain safe when traveling abroad to the tropics.

If you’re still wondering how many neglected tropical diseases there are then follow the up-to-date information provided by the World Health Organisation.

Author Bio: James Sayers has a passion for writing on media such as music, film, and video games. He works at Tillison Consulting as an SEO Campaign Manager working on blog content and SEO improvements for clients.