Home Contributed Parasite Linked To Heart Disease Has Spread To The United States
Parasite Linked To Heart Disease Has Spread To The United States
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Parasite Linked To Heart Disease Has Spread To The United States

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Chagas disease has officially been confirmed in the United States and areas in Europe. This disease is endemic to Central and South American countries and little is known about the disease outside of this area.

Chagas disease is caused by a parasite known as Trypanosoma cruzi after a human is bitten by an infected insect or contaminated food. The insect in question is known as the kissing bug, or triatomine. Chagas disease results in chronic heart disease in around 33% of people who are infected.

This spells disaster for northerly nations who have not had to deal with the parasite, nor the disease before now. Even though the health effects of the disease are well-known in Latin American countries, doctors in the U.S. and Europe are not aware of the disease and its effects on the heart.

It’s estimated that around 300,000 people in the U.S. have been infected with Chagas disease. To put this in perspective, nearly 200,000 Americans are hospitalized every year because of the flu. These numbers are staggering by comparison.

“If a person gets bit by a kissing bug that is infected with the parasite – whenever the insect is feeding it will defecate and if the person happens to scratch or itch or rub the feces into the bite wound – that is how people can catch the disease,” says Dr. Paula Stigler-Granados of UTHealth.

Additionally, this can be even worse if a human contracts more than one strain of parasite.

New studies by Purdue University have shown that multiple strains of a parasite can make infections worse. They studied Schistosoma mansoni, a parasite that can cause inflammation and swelling in the liver and intestines. In Africa, the Middle East, and tropical areas, the disease has affected more than 200 million people. When parasites work together, they can spell disaster for the host.

It’s important for people to take precautions against parasites and other health concerns. Regular health checkups are necessary, especially in the summer when parasites, like S. mansoni thrive in aquatic and humid environments. Zoonotic diseases, those that are spread from animal to human, should also be watched.

Unfortunately, Chagas disease can also affect pets, which is bad news for the 38.9 million households that own cats and 54.4 million that own dogs.

One Texan woman, Sara Light, lost her puppy to Chagas disease in 2016. Since then, she has been collecting kissing bugs and sending them to Texas State University to help their research on the bugs.

This year alone, she has collected nearly 50 triatomine bugs.

As of now, there is no definite cure for Chagas disease. There are only anti-parasitic drugs that can help treat the symptoms of the disease.