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Chagas Disease is a parasitic disease transmitted by a beetle that lives in cracks in the walls of mud and straw housing. It affects approximately 16-18 million people a year , and claims 50,000 lives annually, mostly in Latin America. Nine cases of Chagas were surprisingly found in the United States last year, causing the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta to focus a department on the disease.

Diagnosis is difficult and symptoms often don’t appear until its chronic or fatal stages. Cardiac and digestive complications become apparent and severe.

Insecticides and education are forms of prevention.

KFWH is providing leads for pacemakers for late stage victims, and treatment for children under 15.

Symptoms:  There are often no apparent symptoms after infection, with the exception of a short- lived flu-like reaction. The disease is progressive and after 10 to 20 years, thirty percent of those infected will develop permanent and often irreversible damage to the heart, esophagus and colon.

Diagnosis and Treatment:  Diagnosis is difficult because of lack of symptoms and often requires several blood tests to confirm the presence of the disease. Two drugs are available, but are expensive. Treatment for a child under 15 is around $40. The drugs are not as effective, though, when the disease reaches its chronic,often fatal, state because of cardiac and digestive complications. Research is on-going for both diagnosis and treatment.

Prevention:  Treating homes with insecticide will kill the beetles that carry the disease. Eliminating the insects can cut new infections to zero. Prevention is especially important because even after being treated for one infection, reinfection can occur if the homes are still infested. Education and field support are necessary to take these steps.

Information compiled from publications and personnel of the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders. Specific sources available upon request.

To read Dr. Schoefiled on Chagas, click here.