May 302012

Take a good look at that nasty critter, it could be why you are sick! We touched on the issue of illegals entering the United States and bringing this parasite with them back in July of last year.

What if a deadly epidemic was burgeoning and almost nobody noticed?

In the latest issue of PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, a distinguished group of virologists, epidemiologists and infectious-disease specialists say that’s not a hypothetical question. They argue that Chagas disease, a parasitic infection transmitted by blood-sucking insects, has become so widespread and serious — while remaining largely unrecognized — that it deserves to be considered a public health emergency. Extending the metaphor, they liken Chagas’ stealth spread to the early days of AIDS:

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.

That sounds like rhetoric — after all, what disease expert doesn’t think his or her disease is vitally important — but the numbers the experts bring to the argument are stunning. Overall, there are believed to be 10 million people living with Chagas infection; most of them are in Central and South America, but there are an estimated 1 million in the United States. Up to one-third of those infected, 3 million, are at risk of Chagas’ worst complications, enlarged heart and heart failure. And wherever blood donations are not tested for the protozoan, the blood supply — as well as organ transplants — are at risk.

~ Way back in 2007 it was in the news the Blood Bank of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties does not test donors for chagas disease. Hospitals who use their blood put patient lives at risk. As I am sure is the case in every hospital. Personally, I know how you can get a disEASE from a transfusion with so-called ‘safe’ blood. If you do a general search or on YouTube you will see Chagas mostly in Spanish and foreign countries.

Chagas transmission is squick-making. The disease originates with the protozoan Trypanosoma cruzi, harbored in the guts of long-beaked Triatoma bugs such as the one above. The insects live in wall crevices and thatched roofs; at night, they crawl out and drop onto people sleeping below. They prefer to bite at the lip margin, which earned them the name “kissing bugs.” After they ingest blood, they defecate, pooping out copies of the parasite at the same time. The person wakes up, feels the itch where they were bitten, scratches or rubs the bite, and rubs the parasite-containing feces into the wound. Voila, Chagas infection.

The bugs that transmit Chagas are tropical, and the poor housing conditions that allow them access to victims are pretty much limited to poverty. Combine those two, and you’d think that Chagas’ home range would be fairly limited. But immigration has brought people who are unknowingly infected with Chagas into areas where doctors are unfamiliar with the disease. A separate editorial on Chagas, published last year in the same journal, notes:

Immigration from endemic regions is widespread; for example, there are Brazilian immigrants in Portugal and Bolivian immigrants in Spain, and currently, there are an estimated 100,000 or more Latin American immigrants living in France… Chagasic heart disease has been reported in Brazilian immigrants of Japanese origin in Japan, and the seroprevalence of Chagas disease among Bolivian women in Barcelona has been determined to be 3.4 percent.

Please finish the read @ Wired


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