Chagas Disease: ‘AIDS of the Americas’?

Once only seen in Latin America, the disease is now spreading into the United States as the result of increased travel and migration.

Posted: 06/06/2012 12:36 PM EDT
Filed Under Chagas, Brazil, AIDS, CDC, Health News

A little-known life-threatening illness caused by blood sucking insects has been labeled the “New AIDS of the Americas” by leading health experts.


The said disease was once largely contained to Latin America but is now spreading into the United States due to the increases in travel and migration. Chagas is usually transmitted from the bite of blood-sucking insects called Triatome bugs which release a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi into the victim’s bloodstream.


According to a report, the parasitic illness called Chagas Disease has similarities to the early spread of HIV. The shocking comparison has put this neglected tropical disease in headlines around the world.


Who’s at risk? Is Chagas really as bad as AIDS? Before fear runs rampant, it’s important to know the facts.


What Is Chagas Disease?


Chagas disease is caused by a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi. The parasites multiply within cells of the body. Infected cells burst, releasing parasites into the bloodstream.


Chagas disease was first recognized in the modern era by Brazilian doctor Carlos Chagas in 1909. But the disease has been around for 9,000 years. Chagas parasites have been found in the remains of mummies from the ancient Chinchorro culture of South America. The most common complication of chronic Chagas disease is a heart condition called chronic Chagas cardiopathy. These complications include enlarged heart, heart failure, severely altered heart rhythm, and heart attack.

 

Some patients with chronic Chagas disease get intestinal complications. These may include enlarged esophagus (causing difficulty swallowing) or enlarged colon (causing difficulty passing stool).


How Is Chagas Disease Spread?


There are several ways Chagas disease is spread. The most common way is through the bite of a family of blood-sucking insects called triatomes. They’re better known as kissing bugs, assassin bugs, cone-nosed bugs, and reduviid bugs.

 

For more on Chagas Disease, visit BlackDoctor.org.

 

 

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(Photo: ELMER MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

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