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article imageWhile world focuses on Ebola, Chagas disease surges ahead

By Megan Hamilton     Oct 27, 2014 in World
Bronx - While much of the world's attention has been focused on Ebola, another disease with equally devastating implications is surging. The CDC estimates that some 300,000 people throughout the U.S. may have Chagas disease, and many cases may remain undiagnosed.
For comparison, here's a look at the numbers regarding Ebola:
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 9,936 cases of Ebola have been reported in Western Africa this year, but estimates vary widely as to how many people have died from this devastating disease. The official death toll stands at 4, 877, and these statistics have been widely circulated through the social media but estimates regarding the number of deaths related to Ebola are largely based on speculation, not concrete evidence, according to The International Business Times (IB Times).
The WHO has recently stated that the number of deaths is likely three times higher than officially reported, and that would bring the death toll to around 15,000. The WHO estimates that another 10,000 new cases may be reported by December, and by the time the outbreak runs its' course, another 20,000 people may be infected, per the IB Times.
This article in The Huffington Post provides fairly comprehensive statistics regarding the current Ebola epidemic.
Now let's look at the numbers for Chagas disease:
Along with the statistics provided above for the United States, an additional 16 to 18 million people are afflicted with Chagas disease in Central and South America. Out of that number, 50,000 will die every year, the Texas Department of State Health Services reports.
This vector-borne disease is a major cause of heart disease and gastrointestinal dysfunction in widespread areas throughout Latin America, The Albert Einstein College of Medicine reports. Spread by triatomine insects which are usually called Kissing Bugs, this disease is the most common parasitic disease in Bolivia, and it affects more than one million people, this video reports:
This map shows the distribution of Chagas disease.
This map shows the distribution of Chagas disease.
By Stanford University Online Network - permission is hereby granted as given by the source [CC-BY-S
What causes Chagas disease?
The disease is caused by the tiny worm-like parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is carried by Kissing Bugs. The disease is spread when the bugs bite or defecate on our skin, thus transmitting the parasite to us. Kissing Bugs are named this because they often leave bites around the mouth, Fox News Latino reports. Once this parasite enters the bloodstream, it multiplies within the cells of the body, and the infected cells burst, releasing more parasites into the bloodstream.
The CDC reports that Chagas can also be spread via other means, including:
• Congenital transmission—from a pregnant woman to her baby.
• Blood transfusion.
• Organ transportation.
• Consumption of uncooked food contaminated with feces from infected bugs.
• Accidental laboratory exposure.
Chagas has largely slipped under the world's radar because symptoms often don't show up for months and years after a person has been infected.
"They have no way of knowing if they have the disease until symptoms appear," said Dr. Herbert Tanowitz, professor of pathology and medicine (especially infectious diseases), and director of the Global Infectious Disease Training Program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.said.
In the United States, isolated cases of Chagas have shown up in places like Louisiana, Texas, and Virginia, Fox News Latino reported.
Brazilian doctor Carlos Chagas first recognized the disease in modern times — 1909 — but the disease has been around for at least 9,000 years. Chagas parasites have been found in the mummified remains of the ancient Chinchorro culture of South America, Fox News reports.
"What is striking about infection with T. cruzi is the development of chronic infection with disease symptoms manifesting decades after the acute infection," Dr. Tanowitz said. Treatments for Chagas are highly toxic, and there's no effective treatment for the chronic form of the disease. This is why new drug targets must be sought out. T. cruzi is also difficult to manipulate genetically, and this means research has been limited, per the College of Medicine.
Signs and symptoms of Chagas disease, according to the Mayo Clinic:
In the acute phase, which can last for weeks or months, there are frequently no symptoms. When they do occur, the symptoms include:
• Swelling at the sight of the infection.
• Fever.
• Fatigue.
• Rash.
• Body aches.
• Headache.
• Loss of appetite.
• Eyelid swelling.
• Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.
• Swollen gland.
• Enlargement of the liver and spleen.
In the chronic form of the disease, the signs and symptoms may not show up for 10 years after the initial infection. Symptoms include:
• Irregular heartbeat.
• Congestive heart failure.
• Sudden cardiac arrest.
• Problems with swallowing due to an enlarged esophagus.
• Abdominal pain or constipation due to an enlarged colon.
Since the disease isn't classified as endemic by health officials, many doctors fail to diagnose it or don't realize that people can contract the disease in the U.S. Because this disease can be passed congenitally from a mother to her unborn child, this has serious implications and it's estimated that thousands of children are born infected with Chagas disease. The countries that rank the highest numbers are Brazil (5,000 cases), Argentina (1,800 cases), and Bolivia, with 1,500 congenital cases occurring each year, according to Research On Neglected Diseases.
Additionally, estimates show that in Latin America, the prevalence of asymptomatic women ranges from five percent to 40 percent in countries where the disease is endemic. Brazil at 460,000, Argentina at 275,867, and Mexico at 243,000 have reached the highest absolute total numbers of this disease, Research On Neglected Diseases reports.
Treatment for Chagas can be rather tricky. It's done through anti-parasitic drugs to kill the parasite, but this can only be done if the disease is caught in the early stages. If it goes untreated past the acute stage, then Chagas can only be managed by patients with chronic cardiac or intestinal problems by devices such as pacemakers and medications for irregular heartbeats, per Fox News Latino.
So what does all of this really mean? In the U.S., it means that despite all of the worry about Ebola, another equally serious disease is slipping under the radar.
More about chagas disease, Ebola, Kissing bugs, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, fox news latno
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