Chagas: The Facts
- Chagas is a parasitic disease transmitted by insects. It is most prevalent in Latin America. The beetles that transmit Chagas live in cracks in the walls of mud and straw housing, which are common in rural areas and urban slums. It affects an estimated 16-18 million people and claims 50,000 lives annually.
- Symptoms: There are often no apparent symptoms after infection, with the exception of a short- lived flu-like reaction. The disease is progressive and after 10 to 20 years, thirty percent of those infected will develop permanent and often irreversible damage to the heart, esophagus, and colon.
- Diagnosis and Treatment: Diagnosis is difficult because of lack of symptoms and often requires several blood tests to confirm the presence of the disease. Two drugs are available, but are expensive. Treatment for a child under 15 is around $40. The drugs are not as effective, though, when the disease reaches its chronic,often fatal, state because of cardiac and digestive complications. Research is on-going for both diagnosis and treatment.
- Prevention: Treating homes with insecticide will kill the beetles that carry the disease. Eliminating the insects can cut new infections to zero. Prevention is especially important because even after being treated for one infection, reinfection can occur if the homes are still infested. Education and field support are necessary to take these steps.