The Silent Killer Known as Chagas: A Hidden Threat

Emiliana Rodriguez still vividly remembers the night her childhood friend tragically passed away during a game of soccer. Little did she know, this incident would lead to a deep fear of the night and a relentless battle against a silent killer known as Chagas.

Chagas, also known as the “silent and silenced disease,” is a unique kind of monster that affects millions of people worldwide. It is transmitted by nocturnal insects and claims the lives of approximately 12,000 individuals annually. The true extent of its impact is often underestimated.

The Fear and the Fight

After moving from Bolivia to Barcelona 27 years ago, Emiliana Rodrguez, now 42, realized that she couldn’t escape the grasp of Chagas, the “monster” that haunted her childhood. The fear of the night consumed her, often depriving her of sleep. She constantly worried about the well-being of her unborn child. When she discovered that she was a carrier of Chagas during her pregnancy, she felt paralyzed with fear and uncertainty. Fortunately, with the help of medication, she managed to prevent the transmission of the parasite to her daughter, giving her a sense of relief.

Another unsuspecting victim, Elvira Idalia Hernández Cuevas, had never even heard of Chagas until her 18-year-old daughter was diagnosed with the disease. The shocking news sent her on a desperate search for reliable information and treatment options. Sadly, she encountered a lack of knowledge among medical professionals and faced immense anguish as a result.

The Hidden Epidemic

Unfortunately, Idalia’s experience is not unique. Many people are unaware of the vectorborne diseases caused by these troublesome bugs. Carlos Ribeiro Justiniano Chagas, the Brazilian doctor who discovered the first human case in 1909, is the inspiration behind the name Chagas. The disease has been documented across Latin America, North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia.

Kissing bugs, the primary carriers of Chagas, typically inhabit the walls of low-income housing in rural or suburban areas. They are most active during the night while people are asleep. The bugs transmit the T. cruzi infection by biting a person or animal and defecating on their skin. When the bitten individual accidentally scratches the area, the feces can enter their eyes, mouth, or broken skin, leading to infection.

The Alarming Reality

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 8 million people in Mexico, Central America, and South America are affected by Chagas. Shockingly, the majority of these individuals are unaware of their infection. Without proper treatment, Chagas can have devastating consequences. In fact, it claims the lives of more people in Latin America than any other parasite disease, including malaria.

Even though kissing bugs have been identified in the U.S., with close to 300,000 people infected, it is not considered an endemic disease. However, the long-term effects of Chagas can be severe, leading to cardiac and gastrointestinal complications. Regrettably, the global case detection rate is only 10%, making it extremely challenging to provide adequate treatment and prevention.

The Cry for Awareness

Elvira Idalia Hernández Cuevas and Emiliana Rodriguez refuse to let Chagas remain in the shadows. As president of the International Federation of Associations of People Affected by Chagas Disease (FINDECHAGAS), Hernández is dedicated to raising awareness about this silent disease. She is determined to create a greater market need for new remedies and ensure that medical professionals receive adequate training. Meanwhile, Rodriguez is fighting the “monster” in Spain alongside the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, running campaigns to raise awareness and encourage testing and treatment.

Spreading Awareness, Saving Lives

On April 14th, the World Health Organization (WHO) established World Chagas Disease Day. This initiative aims to prevent, control, eliminate, and eradicate Chagas and other diseases by setting global targets and milestones for 2030. By sharing stories like these and raising awareness, we can contribute to a greater understanding of Chagas and the importance of early detection and treatment.

The CDC also recommends several actions to avoid potential infestation, such as sealing cracks and gaps, removing wood and brush piles near homes, using screens on windows and doors, and keeping sleeping areas clean. If you suspect you have found a kissing bug, it is advised not to crush it. Instead, gently place it in a container with rubbing alcohol and freeze it before taking it to a university lab or your local health authority for identification.

Let’s break the silence surrounding Chagas and ensure that everyone has access to the information, support, and treatment they need. Help raise awareness about this silent killer and join the fight against Chagas. Together, we can make a difference.