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New Way To Combat Chagas Disease Found

By KJ Mullins     Dec 27, 2007 in Health
A study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health has found a low cost screening strategy that will make it easier for poor countries to target and treat Chagas disease. The often fatal parasite ailment is found mainly in Latin America.
An estimated 11 million people are infected with the parasite in the Americas. The current way of fighting the disease has been focusing on spraying campaigns that kill the bug that carries the single cell parasite.
The US research team showed that they could use easy to collect data on the number of the insects in homes during spraying campaigns could target at risk children that should be tested for the disease.
"The exterminators are really telling us what kids need to be tested," said Michael Levy, a disease ecologist at the U.S. National Institutes of Health who conducted the study while at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "It is very easy to add on to existing programs."
Chagas disease kills more than any other parasite disease including Malaria in Latin America. The usual transmitting of the disease to humans is by a bite from the assassin bug. The bug carries a protozoan parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi. The most dangerous part of the disease is that it can take years to show symptoms. If it is treated early the cure rate is dramatically better.
The researchers tested 433 children in the poor Peruvian city of Arequipa. They started testing the children by the number of bugs found in the homes. When they found a child who was infected they tested those that lived within a 20 metre range. The findings showed that those living within close range were infected.
"We started with children who lived around a lot of bugs and only tested around the children who were infected," Levy said in a telephone interview. "It is a two-step strategy."
This approach will hopefully help get the drugs that can save lives to more children. While not all of those who were infected were caught using this method the researchers did detect 83 percent of children infected while only testing a quarter of the population. More people can be treated because of the lessening cost of testing.
"You are going to get as many kids as you can this way," Levy said.
More about Chagas, Latin america, Parasite