Monday, February 11, 2013

Chagas Disease: A Major Issue in the Americas

The "kissing bug" that transmits
Chagas disease 
Here is a brief NPR piece on Chagas disease. Chagas disease is one of the neglected tropical diseases, and is an insect-borne parasitic infection that affects people in the Americas, especially parts of rural Latin America.

The insect vectors for the disease are known as "kissing bugs." They live in the walls and roofs of houses made of adobe, mud, straw and thatch, and emerge at night to feed on people's faces (I am not making this up). The insects thereafter defecate and the parasite (Trypanosoma cruzi), which is in the stool, gets inoculated through the skin when a person scratches.

Town of La Hicaca; this is one of the sites where we see
patients in Honduras; Chagas disease is a major problem in the area
It is estimated that 11 million people are currently living with this infection, and untreated these diseases persist for life. Chagas disease is associated with major morbidity: over time the infection can lead to heart failure and death from arrhythmias, as well as dilatation of the esophagus and colon with attendant gastrointestinal issues.

Where we practice in rural Honduras Chagas is a major issue. One of our projects for our upcoming May-June trip is administering a survey to assess people's risk for developing the infection, and their knowledge and understanding about how to prevent these infections.

Another nice article on Chagas from the New York Times can be found here.

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