Chagas disease: `New AIDS of the Americas`

Last Updated: May 31, 2012, 09:43 AM IST

Washington: A little-known disease caused by parasites transmitted to humans by blood-sucking insects has been labelled by experts as the "new AIDS of the Americas".

In a report, published in journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, the authors claimed that the illness, called Chagas Disease, has similarities to the early spread of HIV.
Like HIV, it is also difficult to detect and can take years for symptoms to emerge, the authors said.

Chagas is also known as American trypanosomiasis, because the bugs carry single-celled parasites called trypanosomes. Their best-known relative, spread by tsetse flies in Africa, causes sleeping sickness, they said.

Chagas is estimated to be infecting up to eight million people in the hemisphere, mostly in Bolivia, Mexico, Colombia and Central America. But more than 300,000 of the infected live in the US, many of them immigrants, The New York Times reported.

The disease, according to authors many of whom are from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, 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, the researchers warned.

Treatment for the potentially life-threatening disease involves harsh drugs taken for up to three months and works only if the disease is caught early, they noted.

The drugs are not as expensive as AIDS drugs, but there are shortages in poor countries, and as it`s a disease of the poor, little money is spent on finding new treatments, they pointed out.

"Both diseases are highly stigmatising," the authors said and expressed fear that immigrants may not get medical treatment making Chagas more likely to spread.

PTI