Chagas Disease Being Called ‘New AIDS of the Americas’
Just when scientist have started make major inroads in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS related morbidity and mortality, a new threat, which has actually been around for more than a century is on the rise and is just as infectious and deadly — Chagas disease.
In a lengthy editorial published in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, scientist are describing Chagas disease, which is caused by parasites transmitted to humans by blood-sucking insects, as “the new AIDS of the Americas.”
Chagas disease is named after the Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas, who discovered the disease in 1909. It is caused by the parasite trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted to animals and people by insect vectors and is found only in the Americas — mainly, in rural areas of Latin America where poverty is widespread. Chagas disease is also referred to as American trypanosomiasis.
The authors, whom are tropical disease experts from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, note that the rapidly advancing spread of Chagas has the capacity to wreak havoc and danger through this hemisphere in a way that resembles the early spread of H.I.V. According to the researchers, like AIDS, Chagas disease has a long incubation time and is hard or impossible to cure.
Presently, it infects up to eight million people in the hemisphere, mostly in Bolivia, Mexico, Colombia and Central America. However, it is estimated that around 300,000 of the infected live in the United States, with some estimating 1 million in the United States. Up to one-third of those infected, 3 million, are at risk of Chagas’ worst complications, enlarged heart and heart failure.
Although the drugs used to treat the disease are not as expensive as AIDS drugs, there are shortages in poor countries. The disease can be transmitted from mother to child or by blood transfusion. About a quarter of its victims eventually will develop enlarged hearts or intestines, which can fail or burst, causing sudden death. Treatment involves harsh drugs taken for up to three months, and works only if the disease is caught early. However, given the negative political attention directed toward Spanish speaking immigrants, they may not get medical treatment, making Chagas more likely to spread.
In the United States, Chagas disease is considered one of the Neglected Parasitic Infections, a group of five parasitic diseases that have been targeted by CDC for public health action.