- Chagas disease is a nasty parasitic disease that is spread by bites of blood-sucking triatomin insects.
- These little creatures climb at night on the faces of people to eat, biting eyes and lips, and therefore they are sometimes called & # 39; kissing insects.
- If the disease is not treated, 30% of patients may develop potentially life-threatening cardiac complications, but many people show no signs of infection.
- A new statement from the American Heart Association says that doctors in the US and Europe should learn to recognize the disease better, because it is increasingly common.
The name & # 39; kissing wants & # 39; does not exactly indicate the danger of the infection that insects can spread with that name.
These blood-sucking bugs, called triatomine-bugs, spread a parasitic disease called Chagas disease. Chagas, untreated, causes severe cardiac or bowel complications in about 30% of patients, according to the CDC. These complications can lead to heart failure and sudden death.
Because many people show no signs of infection, medical researchers have described Chagas as a "silent killer."
Chagas is typically found in Central and South America, but the disease is more common in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan, according to a recent American Heart Association (AHA) statement and the Inter-American Society of Cardiology. . The groups warn that doctors outside of Latin America should become more aware of the disease so that they can recognize, treat and control them.
The AHA estimates that approximately 300,000 people are currently infected with Chagas in the US and about 6 million infected people around the world.
Dr. Mae Melvin / CDC
How Chagas infections happen
Chagas infections occur in a disturbing way.
During the night, certain types of triatomine insects crawl on humans, dogs or other mammals to feed. They often bite the face, especially near the eyes or mouth – hence the name "kissing bugs".
Of the more than 100 types of triatomine bugs, about 12 are considered to be important transmitters of Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas.
When these insects eat, they usually do defecate, causing feces that can contain the parasite. If this stool is rubbed in the bite wounds or in the mucous membranes in the eye or mouth, people can become infected.
Most people show no signs of infection, although some people get swollen eyelids if that is where the infection occurs first. During the early phase of the infection, some people experience fairly general symptoms of illness such as fever, fatigue, body pain, headache or rash, according to Chagas' research team of Texas A & M.
In some cases, people may experience diarrhea or vomiting, and a small percentage of young children may experience swelling in the heart or brain that can lead to death.
Doctors can diagnose the condition with blood tests and treat it with antiparasitic medication. But if patients are not treated, they can develop the chronic form of the disease, and about 30% of them develop an enlarged heart. This can lead to further complications, such as a stroke, an irregular heartbeat or heart failure.
A growing threat
In the US there are at least 11 types of triatomin bugs, some of which transfer Chagas. In the US, the infection is most common in southern states, including Texas, Florida and California.
Because Chagas disease has spread and infected people have migrated to different parts of the world, other forms of transmission have become more common. Chagas can also be administered via blood transfusions, organ donation and from pregnant women to their children.
"Shipping via these routes is a global problem and can take place wherever infected people reside," wrote the authors of the recent warning.
This is not the first time in recent years that doctors have raised alarms about Chagas. Epidemiologist Melissa Nolan Garcia of Baylor University made a similar statement after presenting research into Chagas rates in Texas at a meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 2014.
"We were surprised that not only such a high percentage of people tested positive for Chagas in their blood, but also high rates of heart disease that appear to be related to Chagas," Garcia said.
The disease has continued to spread since then, without sufficient awareness, according to the new statement.
Chagas has long been considered a neglected parasitic infection. Local transmission has largely stopped in some places where the disease spread, such as Chile, but further spread and blood supply infection make the disease a greater concern. It is an infection that, according to the statement, we need much better information.
The new statement also says that estimates of infected populations should be improved, as well as diagnostic and treatment options. Particularly urgent are new, less toxic medicines that are more effective and can be taken during pregnancy, in contrast to the current options.
If these problems are not addressed quickly, the number of cases – and serious heart problems related to those cases – can continue to rise.
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