Chagas, or the “Kissing Bug” appears to be on the rise. For those of us with chronic Lyme disease, which many consider incurable once it has been in the body for a certain length of time, Chagas is also incurable unless it is treated at the onset like Borrelia burgdorferi. Unlike, Bb, Chagas is a parasite that enters the host after the bug bite is itched – usually on the face (which is why it is called the “Kissing Bug”) but the fatalities are alarming.
Chagas, a tropical disease spread by insects, is causing some fresh concern following an editorial—published earlier this week in a medical journal—that called it “the new AIDS of the Americas.”
More than 8 million people have been infected by Chagas, most of them in Latin and Central America. But more than 300,000 live in the United States.
The editorial, published by the Public Library of Science’s Neglected Tropical Diseases, said the spread of the disease is reminiscent of the early years of HIV.
“There are a number of striking similarities between people living with Chagas disease and people living with HIV/AIDS,” the authors wrote, “particularly for those with HIV/AIDS who contracted the disease in the first two decades of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”
Both diseases disproportionately affect people living in poverty, both are chronic conditions requiring prolonged, expensive treatment, and as with patients in the first two decades of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, “most patients with Chagas disease do not have access to health care facilities.”
Unlike HIV, Chagas is not a sexually-transmitted disease: it’s “caused by parasites transmitted to humans by blood-sucking insects,” as the New York Times put it.
“It likes to bite you on the face,” CNN reported. “It’s called the kissing bug. When it ingests your blood, it excretes the parasite at the same time. When you wake up and scratch the itch, the parasite moves into the wound and you’re infected.”
“Gaaah,” Cassie Murdoch wrote on Jezebel.com, summing up the sentiment of everyone who read the journal’s report.
Chagas, also known as American trypanosomiasis, kills about 20,000 people per year, the journal said.
And while just 20 percent of those infected with Chagas develop a life-threatening form of the disease, Chagas is “hard or impossible to cure,” the Times reports:
The disease can be transmitted from mother to child or by blood transfusion. About a quarter of its victims eventually will develop enlarged hearts or intestines, which can fail or burst, causing sudden death. Treatment involves harsh drugs taken for up to three months and works only if the disease is caught early.
“The problem is once the heart symptoms start, which is the most dreaded complication—the Chagas cardiomyopathy—the medicines no longer work very well,” Dr. Peter Hotez, a researcher at Baylor College of Medicine and one of the editorial’s authors, told CNN. “Problem No. 2: the medicines are extremely toxic.”
And 11 percent of pregnant women in Latin America are infected with Chagas, the journal said.
It was originally discovered by the Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas. It is common throughout South and Central American and very rarely makes its way across the Rio Grande although there are over 200,000 people with the disease in the U.S ( compared to 10 million in the endemic areas.)
Of particular concern is the appearance of Chagas in Europe where another couple hundred thousand people are infected with the parasite. The parasite, like Babesia and other microscopic parasites are transmitted through blood transfusions and organ transplants which could cause a world-wide health crisis.
My recommendation to you if you have chronic Lyme disease is to stay away from areas that Chagas is known to be prevalent and take every precaution to cover your face at night, use mosquito netting or splurge on expensive hotels. Evidently they live in the plaster and tiled roofs of homes and come out at night to feed (which is why the face is usually bitten, it is the uncovered meal!)