Abstract:

Soil-transmitted helminth (STH) infections can result in a variety of negative health outcomes (e.g., diarrhea, nutritional deficiencies). Market integration (MI; participation in market-based economies) has been suggested to alter levels of STH exposure due to associated changes in diet, sanitation, and behavior, but the effects are complicated and not well understood. Some effects of economic development result in decreased exposure to certain pathogens, and other factors can lead to higher pathogen exposure. With geographic location used as a proxy, the present study investigates the effects of economic development on parasite load among an indigenous population at multiple points along the spectrum of MI. This research has many implications for public health, including an increased understanding of how social and economic changes alter disease risk around the world and how changing parasite load affects other health outcomes (i.e., allergy, autoimmunity). Specifically, this study examines the prevalence of intestinal helminths among the Shuar, an indigenous group in the Morona-Santiago region of Ecuador, from 2 geographically/economically separated areas, with the following objectives: (1) report STH infection prevalence and intensity among Shuar; (2) explore STH infection prevalence and intensity as it relates to age distribution in the Shuar population; (3) compare STH infection patterns in geographically and economically separated Shuar communities at different levels of MI. Kato-Katz thick smears were made from fresh stool samples and examined to determine STH presence/intensity. Results indicate that 65% of the 211 participants were infected with at least 1 STH. Twenty-five percent of the sample had coinfections with at least 2 species of helminth. Infection was more common among juveniles (<15 yr) than adults. Infection prevalence and intensity was highest among more isolated communities with less market access. This study documents preliminary associations between STH infection and exposure to MI, with implications for public health research and interventions.

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