Chagas Disease Explained -- And Why You Should Care

Researchers are now stating that a disease known as Chagas disease could do us global damage – like that of AIDS. Described as the “new AIDS of the Americas”, this parasitic disease is most often found in Latin American countries, with most cases reported from Bolivia, Mexico, and Colombia. 

But now, the problem seems to be spreading, with 30,000 reported cases in the U.S., many in southern Texas. People who contract it can develop enlarged hearts or intestines that can eventually stop working (or worse, burst). The disease is transmitted through blood-sucking insects, known as “kissing bugs."

Chagas disease is named after Carlos Ribeiro Justiniano Chagas, a Brazilian doctor who first discovered the disease in 1909. It’s said that Charles Darwin might have contracted the disease in his travels to South America.

The treatment problem is two-fold: one, once infected the disease can go unnoticed for years, even decades. Two, the disease is seen as stigmatizing (think early HIV/AIDS), and therefore many who know they won’t even be able to afford the treatment don’t actually get treated for it.

The drugs, while not as expensive as those for AIDS, are not very affordable. In fact, this disease has been called “a disease of the poor.” But as it continues to spread, possibly reaching pandemic levels, this nickname may change.  A bigger understanding of this disease will hopefully make treatment more affordable and more widely-used. (Because last time we checked, a bug doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor.)