According to the UN News, the first ever World Chagas Disease Day was celebrated on April 14, 2020 to raise awareness for Chagas Disease, a rare disease spread by the triatomine bug.
Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, is a parasitic and insect-borne disease. The parasite is called Trypanosoma cruzi. While the CDC estimates that around 300,000 people in America are living with Chagas disease, many believe that it is most prevalent in Latin America. However, it is also found in Europe and Africa.
According to the World Health Organization, a young Brazilian girl named Berenice Soarer de Moura visited the doctor complaining of her symptoms in 1909. Dr. Carlos Ribiero Justiniano Chagas, the namesake of the disease, was the physician who treated her.
Chagas disease can be acute (many parasites in the blood) or chronic (fewer to no parasites). Many people with Chagas are asymptomatic. However, if symptoms occur, they generally include:
- Inflammation around the site of infection
- Dilated colon, heart, and esophagus
- Abnormal heart beat
- Rarely: inflammation of the heart or brain
Learn more about Chagas disease here.
World Chagas Disease Day
On April 14, the World Health Organization spearheaded the first ever World Chagas Disease Day. Their aim was to encourage education about the disease and also highlight the importance of early treatment. If not caught early, the disease could lead to severe, and sometimes fatal, cardiac and organ damage.
However, the disease is treatable with early detection and treatment options, such as anti-parasitic drugs. Thus, if you have been anywhere in which the disease is most common (Mexico, South America, Central America), take note of potential symptoms: fever, fatigue, vomiting, and body aches. If concerned, please visit your doctor. They may be able to screen your blood for parasites.
These bugs enjoy the cracks in the floorboards, or holes in the walls and furniture. However, triatomine bugs are most drawn to areas where animals live. In the home, they are most commonly found near where pets sleep. Outside of the home, they often cluster in animal pens or chicken coops.
These bugs are sometimes called the “Kissing Bug.” This is because they feed on blood, often from exposed skin on the face. The bugs are not picky, and will feed on the blood of both animals and humans. Triatomine bugs are active at night, so you may not see them. If you do, your first instinct may be to squash the bug. But don’t! HomeTeam Pest Defense notes that the CDC would rather you bring the bug into a lab for testing so that they can perform research.
There are multiple routes of infection. The first is touching or somehow ingesting the triatomine bugs’ excrement. This can occur through a bite or through contaminated food. Next, Chagas disease can be spread through organ transplants or blood transfusions. Finally, a mother may pass the disease to a child through birth.
Education and Health Access
Because of the geographical location in which the disease is most prevalent, many people may not have adequate access to healthcare or disease education. Dr. Mwelecele Ntuli Malecela notes that:
“Chagas disease has been associated for a long time with mainly poor, rural, and marginalized populations and is characterized by poverty and exclusion.”
This presents a severe problem. However, engaging in advocacy and education to raise awareness is the first step in changing how this disease is viewed and treated.
In addition to advocacy and awareness, WHO recommends addressing the problem at the source. Local communities can combat Chagas through close screening of blood donations, practicing good food hygiene, and spraying potentially affected areas with insecticides.