Chagas disease has been making headlines as of late, often being described by medical professionals as journalists alike as the “new AIDS”. At present, there are thought to be more than 8 million people living with the disease in Latin and Central America. The United States, on the other hand, is home to nearly 300,000 individuals who are believed to be infected. Many feel that, because the Chagas disease has become so widespread, that it should be declared a public health emergency.
If you have a weak stomach or are prone to nausea when reading news articles about infectious diseases, I would highly recommended skipping over this particular section, as it might lead to a series of unpleasant nightmares for the next few weeks. Chagas disease is a tropical parasitic infection spread by blood-sucking insects. It’s thought to be spread by such bugs such as the Triatoma, which, from what I understand, really enjoy the taste of human blood.
Here’s how it typically goes down: The aforementioned insect, which is often referred to as “the kissing bug”, drops down on you while you’re sound asleep. After biting you around the lip and ingesting your blood as a late-night snack, they defecate on your face, a secretion that contains the copies of the parasite. When you wake up the next morning with an itchy bug bite on your grill, the ensuing scratching and/or rubbing effectively massages the insect feces into the wound. The next thing you know, your body is the proud host of the Chagas disease.
Additionally, the disease can also be transfered by blood transfusion and from mother to child during pregnancy. It’s currently believed that Chagas kills 20,000 people every year.
In an editorial published by Public Library of Science’s Neglected Tropical Diseases, the similarities to the AIDS/HIV epidemic are as follows:
Both diseases are health disparities, disproportionately affecting people living in poverty. Both are chronic conditions requiring prolonged treatment courses… As with patients in the first two decades of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, most patients with Chagas disease do not have access to health care facilities. Both diseases are also highly stigmatizing, a feature that for Chagas disease further complicates access to … essential medicines, as well as access to serodiagnosis and medical counseling.
Complications from the diseases include the enlarging of the heart and intestines, which, after a prolonged period of time, may burst, which, in turns, causes the person to die. If caught early enough, the disease can be treated with a series of harsh drugs over the course of several months. The only problem is that these medications are highly toxic, which may cause sufferers to trade one set of problems for another.