New research is suggesting that it is increasingly being seen in the southern US and poses an emerging potential public health threat for Americans.
You may be asking, what exactly is Chagas Disease? It is caused by a protozoan parasite related to the African Trypanosoma that causes sleeping sickness. It is a parasitic infection that can cause severe heart disease and death if not caught and treated early and affects millions of people worldwide, mainly in Latin America. New research is suggesting that it is increasingly being seen in the southern US and poses an emerging potential public health threat for Americans.
Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, presented the results of their work in November of last year, at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in New Orleans, LA. They say that a large area of the southern US faces a large risk of contracting Chagas disease.
The infection occurs via bloodsucking bugs that bear the parasite. The bugs are sometimes called “kissing bugs” because they feed on people’s faces during the night. The parasite transfers to the new host via the feces of the kissing bug. This is deposited on the skin and then gets into the bloodstream either via the bite, or when the person scratches the bug site.
Once the parasite enters the bloodstream, it goes to the heart and settles there, and damages the heart muscle. Up to 30% of infected people have chronic heart disorders and up to 10% get sick with other health problems including digestive and neurological disorders.
Many infected people do not realize they have Chagas until symptoms become severe – and even then, they can be misdiagnosed as some other condition such as cardiovascular disease.
It can also be spread through the blood supply from donors infected with the parasite but can be cured if caught early. It affects about 8 million people worldwide, mostly in Mexico, Central America and South America.
Baylor researchers say cases of Chagas disease are increasingly being seen in Texas, and at much higher levels than previously thought. They also are saying that a high percentage of American cases have become infected inside the US. They were astonished to not only find a high rate of people testing positive for Chagas I their blood, but high rates of heart disease that appear to be Chagas-related.
Typically, people don’t normally feel sick, so they don’t end up seeking medical care. Ultimately, it ends up causing heart disease in about 30% of those infected.
The Baylor team suggests Chagas disease is an emerging public health concern not only for Texas – where their research was conducted, but also for other parts of the United States.
The Baylor team suggests there could be cases of Chagas in Americans who are infected through kissing bug bites that are undiagnosed because of low awareness of the disease.
The team presented the results of several studies to back their suggestions. One of these, published in the journal Epidemiology and Infection, is an analysis of routine testing of Texas blood donors from 2008 to 2012. Since