A new study on the parasitic illness called Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, claims that the illness has similarities to the early spread of HIV. Photo via stefanov76 at SXC Photo
Experts are calling a little known but deadly illness caused by blood sucking insects the new AIDS of the Americas.
A new study on the parasitic illness called Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, claims that the illness has similarities to the early spread of HIV.
Experts writing in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases said that like AIDS, Chagas is difficult to detect and can take many years for any symptoms to even emerge.
According to a report in The New York Times, it is estimated that 10 million people are infected worldwide, mostly in Bolivia, Mexico, Colombia, and Central America, alone with 30,000 in the United States, most of which are immigrants.
The disease was previously largely contained in Latin America, but has been spreading due to travel and immigration from and to those parts of the world.
Chagas has been targeted by the CDC for public health action, as it is considered one of the Neglected Parasitic Infections due to its severity, the large amount of people that have been infected and the ability of prevention.
If Chagas is caught early enough, the disease can be prevented from causing serious harm with an intense three month long medication treatment.
Unfortunately, due to the length of time it takes for symptoms to emerge and the cost of healthcare, the disease is often left untreated, especially in the poorer communities where it is most prevalent.
Although mostly spread through contact with the insects, Chagas disease also spread easily through blood transfusions and sometimes, though not as commonly, from mother to baby.
Blood banks in the United States began screening for the disease in 2007. Blood banks in Latin America also screen for it today.
The insects whose bite usually spreads the disease are called Triatome bugs. When they bite, they release a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi into the bloodstream.
During the first of two phases, the acute phase, victims may have a fever, one swollen eye, a more general feeling they are not well, or no symptoms at all.
After the acute phase, the victim goes into remission, which may last for years.
When the victim enters the second phase, the severe phase, they may experience constipation, abdomenal pain and digestive problems.
Once Chagas has gone on this long, the parasite can make its way to the heart, where it lives and multiplies.
Approximately one out of four people who contract Chagas develop an enlarged heart or intestines which can burst or explode within the person, causing them to die suddenly.
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