Treating Parasites in Refugees Coming to U.S. Is Beneficial

A program to treat intestinal worms in people who emigrate to the U.S. is working at a low cost, showing that refugees don’t have to become health-care burdens to their new communities with the proper medical interventions, researchers said.

African and Southeast Asian refugees treated before their arrivals with albendazole, a medicine that stops worms from absorbing sugar so they die, were 77 percent less likely to have the parasites than those not given the drug, a study reported today in the New England Journal of Medicine found.

The treatment program by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began in 1999. Today’s findings show it’s possible to help vulnerable communities contain a global health threat at a cost of about $1 per person, said Martin Cetron, director of the CDC’s Global Migration and Quarantine unit.

“It’s very easy for the public to fear refugee arrivals in their community,” Cetron said in a telephone interview. “With a very cheap intervention, you can make a huge difference in people’s lives” so they don’t become a burden to their new communities.

Untreated, intestinal worms can lead to long-term medical problems in those who are infected, Cetron said. One dose of albendazole -- generally all that’s needed for effective treatment -- costs less than $1, he said.

About 25 percent of the world’s population has intestinal worms, the most-common medical conditions in refugees, the authors wrote. The U.S. settles about 80,000 people each year from areas where the problem is rampant. Before they come to the U.S., though, they undergo mandatory health screenings.

Researchers in the study looked at 26,956 refugees from Africa and Southeast Asia who had stool samples taken when they resettled in Minnesota between 1993 and 2007.

The study was funded by the Atlanta-based CDC, University of Minnesota, Minnesota Department of Health and Hennepin County Medical Center.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Ostrow in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at

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