Chagas disease comes from a parasite transmitted through the feces of a blood-sucking insect, which is known as the kissing bug. The disease is endemic in rural areas from Mexico to Argentina. The Mexican Herald reports than an estimated one and a half to two million Mexicans are infected with this parasite. More recently it has been found that Chagas disease is spreading to other parts of the world. One common way that this is spread is through blood transfusions. Biologist Bert Kohlmann stated that they have received reports from Australia, Europe, the United States and even Canada of infections through blood transfusion. The vinchuca is one of the principal carriers of the dreaded Tripanosoma cruzi, a tiny one-celled parasite, which multiplies in humans and animals, and which is the cause of Chagas’ disease. It was in 1908 that Charles Chagas discovered the parasite for the first time in the intestine of the vinchuca. The disease can also be transmitted to humans from dogs and cats. The main problem is that most doctors don’t even think about screening for Chagas. The World Health Organization estimates that in the Western Hemisphere, 16 to 18 million people are infected with the disease and 100 million more may be at risk. This disease is often fatal and there is currently no known cure.
What are the symptoms of Chagas disease?
The most recognizable symptom is when it is in the acute stage and there is swelling of the eye. Fatigue, fever, loss of appetite, or diarrhea may also follow. After about a month or two, the symptoms may disappear-even without treatment. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the disease is gone, because it is likely to get worse. Ten to twenty years after the initial infection the victim may develop cardiac problems, including rhythm disturbances, heart failure, liver and spleen infections. Harm can also be done to the lymph nodes and the brain; this usually indicates that it is in its final stage. This disease can be very difficult to detect by examination. Sometimes the parasites can even get into the heart, and as they begin to multiply and grow they can cause clotting or stoppage in the blood vessels. Some victims have also suffered from enlargement of the large intestine, which can result in digestive and elimination problems.
This disease is not necessarily contagious. If one member of the family has it, the rest are not likely to contract the disease. The principal way in which the disease is transmitted is by the bite of a carrier of the parasite. Babies that are born of diseased mothers can get it, as the parasite penetrates the mother’s placenta and reaches the developing infant during the last months of pregnancy. It is also known that a suckling baby can get the parasite through the milk of a diseased mother. In countries, where there are animals or birds in or near the home, there is an open invitation for bloodsucking insects to enter the house and thereafter introduce Chagas’ disease to the occupants.
How can you protect yourself from Chagas?
Cleanliness is the most important preventive measure. This is because the vinchuca makes its home in the dark areas of the house that is made of mud, straw, palm leaves and other rudimentary materials. Therefore, it has been suggested that new structures be made of cement, plaster and lime to eliminate possible habitats. Also, the regular cleaning of houses and outbuildings is of utmost importance. At present there are insecticides that destroy the vinchuca in all its stages, including the egg stage. Listed below are some preventative measures that you can take if you live in or plan to visit one of the areas where they are known to dwell.
· If you sleep in a mud or thatch house, try to use a bed net.
· Use insecticides
· Repair wall cracks – these may be breeding sites for the barber beetle.
· Keep your home clean
· Occasionally lay out mattresses and blankets in the sun.
· Remember that animals-wild and domesticated-can be carriers
· If you suspect an insect to be a barber beetle, send it to the nearest health center for analysis.
Although cases in the United States are still fairly rare you should make sure that you follow the above suggestions when visiting other areas. Also take into consideration the risk when considering blood transfusions.