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Chagas disease emerging as U.S. public health threat

By Tim Sandle     Nov 15, 2014 in Health
Chagas disease - a stealthy parasitic infection that can lead to severe heart disease and death, is spreading in the U.S. Scientists argue that policy makers need to treat the issue seriously.
Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis) is spread to people through the feces of blood-sucking triatomine insects. The disease is caused by the protozoan Trypanosoma cruzi. The insects (“kissing bugs”) tend to feed on people's faces during the night. The disease can be cured provided that it is treated promptly. Symptoms can range from weak to severe, and manifest as fever, fatigue, body aches, and serious cardiac and intestinal complications.
Kissing bugs emerge at night to feed. Once they have bitten and ingested blood, they defecate on their victim and the parasites then enter the body through breaks in the skin.
Generally the disease has been considered a concern within Mexico, Central America and South America. Now Chagas disease is being detected in Texas at relatively high levels. The parasite has now been declared an emerging infectious disease.
Scientists are not only concerned about the spread of the disease; there are also risks around a lack of awareness about the condition. This not applies to the public, but to medical professionals as well.
The data came from test records relating to laboratory examinations undertaken on Texas blood donors for Chagas between 2008 and 2012. The rate was as high as one in every 6,500 blood donors. This ratio is some 50 times higher than U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates. It was found that 41 percent of those infected showed signs of heart disease caused by the infection, including swollen, weakened heart muscle and irregular heart rhythms caused by the parasite burrowing into heart tissue.
The information has been collated by Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the findings have been published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. The paper is titled “Trypanosoma cruzi screening in Texas blood donors, 2008–2012.”
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