April 22, 2017

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The Texas A&M Coastal Bend Health Education Center held its annual Tropical and Infectious Disease Conference in Corpus Christi April 21 and 22, to provide physicians and other medical professionals with the knowledge they need to identify and treat reemerging and tropical diseases.

Once thought to be on the brink of eradication, certain infectious and tropical diseases are emerging among the general population due to complacency, the increase of affordable air travel, antimicrobial resistance and controversy over childhood immunizations. Diseases such as murine typhus and meningitis, along with tropical diseases such as Zika, challenge medical professionals to find innovative methods of diagnosis and treatment.

“The purpose of this conference is to educate the health care professional about some important infectious diseases that impact Texas, along with methods of diagnosis, treatment and prevention with the most up-to-date information available,” said Michael Bullen, MD, FIDSA, infectious disease specialist and the conference’s course director.

The climate, a large immigrant population and high poverty levels in South Texas create the perfect environment for the spread of tropical diseases. Bullen said medical professionals have been able to control some infectious diseases while “many others seem to stay one or many steps ahead.”

Physicians and other health professionals need to be able to identify the symptoms of reemerging and tropical diseases, as well as treat them, because they can mimic other conditions and symptoms. Couple that with antimicrobial resistance and improper diagnosis, and the knowledge gap remains wide open. This conference will attempt to close that gap by discussing the infectious diseases common to the Coastal Bend region, proper methods of diagnosing these diseases, and the new technology and methods to control, treat and contain the spread of these illnesses.

The event included a keynote address by Herbert L. DuPont, MD, FACP, FIDSA, a renowned infectious disease epidemiologist, who discussed how the human body’s own bacteria can be harnessed to treat various medical problems.

“The intestinal microbiome is a powerful factory of bacteria producing chemicals that control health and produce disease,” DuPont said. “Clostridium difficile (C-diff) infection is the most important cause of hospital-acquired infection in the United States, resulting in 29,000 deaths. All physicians need to know how to diagnose and treat this disorder, which tends to recur and can cause chronic suffering and death.”

DuPont, the director for the Center for Infectious Disease at the University of Texas School of Public Health, says C-diff infection is becoming a hospital crisis “because half of the patients in a hospital are receiving antibiotics that deplete their intestinal microbiome diversity, and spores of C-diff are found in the hospital environment.” He says this creates a “perfect storm” for the infection to spread and cause recurrent disease and death.

Other conference topics included murine typhus in South Texas, a comprehensive review of the Zika virus and Congenital Zika Syndrome, molecular detection of respiratory viruses, pediatric tuberculosis and a discussion on the roots of vaccine hesitancy. There was also a talk given on ethical and legal ramifications of serious medical errors.

The conference, which is an initiative of Texas A&M Healthy South Texas, counts toward health professional’s continuing education requirements.

“Health care professionals who attended the event are now armed with knowledge of the latest advances in infectious diseases that pose a threat to this critical region of the state,” said Starr Flores, director of the Coastal Bend Health Education Center and regional director of Texas A&M Healthy South Texas. “We are proud to provide such quality continuing education opportunities for medical professionals in our area to learn from each other about the newest threats and what they can do to help prevent the spread of these diseases, in order to prevent disabling complications.”

-Les D. Cockrell