Chagas Disease: Urgent Measures Are Needed
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Global health topics are typically presented in the context of extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa or Asia. However, today approximately 100 million people in the Western Hemisphere also live on less than $2 per day. About 10 percent of these “bottom 100 million” currently live with a serious and life-threatening neglected disease known as Chagas disease or American trypanosomiasis.
Humans acquire Chagas disease microscopic parasites — trypanosomes — through contact with kissing bugs that thrive in poor quality and substandard housing. Trypanosomes selectively attack the heart so that up to one-third of people who acquire them progress and develop a form of heart disease known as a cardiomyopathy associated with heart aneurysms, arrhythmias, and even sudden death.
In poorest countries of Latin America, such as Bolivia, Honduras, and Nicaragua, Chagas disease is the leading cause of heart disease. But it is also very common yet mostly hidden within pockets of extreme poverty in wealthier nations such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and even the United States, as well as among Latin American immigrants to Europe, Asia, and Australia.