Mary Kekatos, Daily Mail, August 23, 2018
A parasitic illness that can cause strokes and heart failure is spreading across the US, doctors have warned.
Chagas disease is transmitted by an insect known as the ‘kissing bug’ because it tends to bite people’s faces, near their mouths.
Many never shown signs that they’ve been infected with the disease, which is why it has earned the nickname of the ‘silent killer’.
The disease has mostly been limited to Central and South America, but it has entered the States, sickening an estimated 300,000 Americans.
A statement released by the American Heart Association says that if US doctors don’t become better at recognizing, diagnosing and treating Chagas disease, it could result in a devastating outbreak.
Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which lives in the gut of bug that transmits the disease, the triatomine insect, which is also known as the ‘kissing bug’.
However, the disease is not spread through the bug’s bite, rather through its feces.
After the bugs feed on you, they tend to defecate. If the feces accidentally are rubbed into the wound or the eye, it can result in infection.
Chagas disease has two phases known as the acute phase and the chronic phase.
According to the CDC, the acute phase lasts for the first few weeks or months after the infection.
Despite a high number of parasites circulating in the blood, most symptoms are either mild or absent.
Such symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, rash, or swelling near the bite wound or where the feces were deposited or rubbed into the eye.
During this stage, there are a handful of anti-parasitic medications to treat Chagas with a 60 to 90 percent success rate, according to the AHA.
In the chronic stage, the parasites have entered the heart muscles and the digestive muscles.
About 30 percent will develop an enlarged heart, arrhythmias, or an enlarged esophagus and colon.
These can result in life-threatening complications including strokes or cardiac arrest.
Drugs won’t cure Chagas during the chronic stage, but they can help slow down the disease’s progression in those age 50 and under.
The CDC estimates that as many as eight million people in Mexico, Central America and South America have Chagas but are unaware of it.
But the statement from the AHA says that doctors outside of these areas are unaware of its existence or that it can lead to such fatal consequences.
They say it has become much more common in countries such as Italy, Spain, France, Japan, the UK and Australia, and that as many as 300,000 in the US are infected.
So far, 27 states, mostly in the south and the west, have reported cases, including Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and California — although cases have been spotted as far north as Pennsylvania.
The authors of the statement say that being vigilant is key to preventing a possible epidemic similar to our neighbors south of the border.
‘Early detection of Chagas disease is critical, allowing prompt initiation of therapy when the evidence for cure is strong,’ said co-author Dr Caryn Bern, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California in San Francisco.