Research

Chagas Disease

Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, is an infection caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. Parasite to human transmission is accomplished by the Reduviid bug, also known as the "kissing bug." Transmission of the infection also occurs transplacentally, via blood transfusion, organ transplantation, laboratory incident, and ingestion of triatomine-contaminated food or drink.

Chagas disease has an acute early stage that is typically asymptomatic during the first 6 to 8 weeks. This acute stage is often undetected due to its lack of symptoms and thus not treated. Consequently, Chagas disease becomes a chronic, lifelong condition.

The parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, can nest undetected in the human heart, esophagus or colon and cause organs to fail years later. The majority of people infected will remain asymptomatic in the chronic phase. However, an estimated thirty percent of infected individuals will have onset of symptomatic disease, usually decades after the initial infections, with cardiac (i.e., cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, and sudden death) or gastrointestinal manifestations.

Chagas disease is a major public health concern in Latin America where somewhere between 8 and 10 million people are chronically infected. Epidemiology of this particular disease has changed over the recent years by urbanization and international migration and is becoming a larger local health threat by day. Unrecognized disease in the immigrant populations might lead to emerging health problems within the areas in the United States where immigrant communities are growing. Some researchers also worry that infections will increase because dogs could expose humans to the parasite.

Estimates of T. cruzi antibody prevalence in the blood donor population in the United States vary widely, reflecting geographic differences as well as a trend of steady increase in prevalence as a result of conspicuous immigration from the endemic areas of Latin America over the last two decades.

Nineteen cases of Chagas were reported to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in 2013. Those are the first recorded in three decades, although health officials and researchers believe the actual number of infections is probably much higher because symptoms are often misdiagnosed or underreported. The World Health Organization estimates that each year 50,000 people die worldwide from the complications of Chagas disease.