THE CHAGAS DISEASE: AN ENDEMIC PROBLEM IN LATIN AMERICA
Chagas disease is a tropical parasitic disease caused by the flagellate protozoan called Trypanosoma cruzi. The T. cruzi is commonly transmitted to humans and other mammals by the blood-sucking insect vector. You might know the vector, Triatominae, by different names such as kissing bug, chinche besucona, chinche picuda and chipo (Central America), chiri macha (north of South America), barbeiro (Brazil) or even vinchuca (south of South America). We can recognize the vector by its appearance. They have a tapered head, it measures about 2 centimeters in the adult stage and has yellow transverse bands on its brown body. To give you a better idea, check the image above.
The disease is endemic mainly in the Americas, particularly in poor, rural areas of Mexico, Central America, and South America; very rarely, the disease has been found in the Southern part of the United States. The main health concern cause by it is heart disease, mostly the enlargement of the ventricles of the heart, while other symptoms of the late stage (10 to 30 years after infection!) might be enlarged esophagus and colon. As for the early stages patients might present with fever, swollen lymphnodes, headache and swelling on the location of the bite.
There are different ways to prevent this disease, such as:
- Eliminate cracks in the wall
- Hygiene care
- Use of insecticides
- Educate the public to recognize the vector
- Recommending people to visit their doctor and report to the health authorities about the existence of vectors
The prevention of this disease is very important. We are pharmacy students and being health professionals, we must work in the prevention and awareness, mainly in poor and rural areas.
What we can do to encourage the prevention of this disease?
AEFRA (Asociacion de Estudiantes de Farmacia de la República Argentina), for example, works in rural schools by bringing school materials such as books, pens, pencils, pages, etc. We try to explain to the kids in a simple way, what to do to prevent Chagas and how to improve their hygiene. In the North and the Central parts of Argentina, Chagas is a very big problem, not only in the rural areas but also in the larger cities. We must be alert, and education is the key to succeed.
Mr. Jorge Schlottke
IPSF PARO Regional Relations Officer 2013-14