Chagas disease is becoming a major health threat in the United States. Baylor epidemiologist Melissa Nolan Garcia and Dr. Kristy Murray, associate professor of tropical medicine at Baylor, presented their findings at the Nov. 4, 2014, session of the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. The appearance of the disease has been centered in Texas as if Ebola was not enough.
The researchers found that the rate of infection from Chagas disease was at minimum 50 times greater than the most recent estimates provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers based their data on the discovery of the parasite that causes the disease in blood donors. The disease is spread to people through the feces of bloodsucking triatomine bugs also known as “kissing bugs” The disease can produce severe heart problems and death.
The researchers found that the spread of Chagas disease was the result of infections that occurred inside the United States. The disease is more typically seen in Mexico, Central America, and South America. The researchers attribute the move of the disease into the United States to be more a problem of infected bugs than a problem of legal or illegal immigrants entering the United States. Seventy-three percent of the kissing bugs tested in Texas carried the parasite that causes the disease.
The problem is deadly serious. The majority of the people that tested positive for the disease did not know they had the disease. At present there is no defined follow-up procedure for physicians and blood banks to follow when they discover that a person has Chagas disease. There is no defined methodology for diagnosis, control, or prevention of the spread of the disease. Nifurtimox and benznidazole are the recommended drugs for the treatment of Chagas disease by the CDC but both drugs can produce severe side effects.