According to a paper published in the Public Library of Science journal, scientists say that Chagas disease, or American trypanosomiasis, could be “the new HIV/AIDS of the Americas.”
The New York Times cited the paper on Tuesday, saying the impact of Chagas disease will be just as devastating as HIV/AIDS has been in Africa.
The paper’s authors, from Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine, say that approximately 10 million of the poorest people in the Americas have some stage of the disease, which like AIDS is highly stigmatized.
Chagas is neither a virus nor a bacteria, but an incurable single-celled parasite like malaria and sleeping sickness.
Triatomine bugs drink the victims’ blood, typically while they sleep, then leave their droppings near the site of the resulting wound. The droppings penetrate skin cells around the bite wound and, later, enter the bloodstream as tiny worms.
According to the New York Times: “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.”
Once the disease reaches a certain point in its development, it becomes incurable. Drugs to treat it are cheaper than AIDS drugs, but are in short supply in poor countries. Because Chagas is a disease of the poor, it is not a priority of governments.
The heaviest concentrations of the disease are in Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia and in Central America.