Chagas disease may be a threat in South Texas, says researcher

Chagas disease may be a threat in South Texas, says researcher
One of the varieties of "kissing bugs" that can be carriers of the parasite that causes Chagas disease. Credit: Marsha Miller

Chagas disease, a tropical parasitic disease that can lead to life-threatening heart and digestive disorders, may be more widespread in Texas than previously thought, according to research from The University of Texas at Austin.

"We've been studying this for four years now, and this year the number of disease-causing insects is quite amazing," says Sahotra Sarkar, professor of integrative biology and philosophy at The University of Texas at Austin and lead author of a paper on the disease published in .

Endemic to rural areas of Latin America, Chagas disease is often transmitted by triatomine bugs, also known as "."

In order to assess the prevalence of in Texas, Sarkar is working with a network of health professionals and researchers around the state. After collecting and classifying insects from the field, Sarkar sends them to Philip Williamson, an assistant professor at The University of North Texas Health Science Center. Williamson determines how many of the bugs carry the Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes the disease.

Chagas disease may be a threat in South Texas, says researcher
A composite risk map for Chagas disease in Texas. According to Sarkar's analysis eleven counties are at particular risk: Bee, Bexar, Brooks, Cameron, DeWitt, Goliad, Hidalgo, Jim Wells, Kenedy, Kleberg, and Nueces. Credit: Sahotra Sarkar

From the data Sarkar creates epidemiological maps showing the number and location of carrier insects, recorded human Chagas infections and hospitable habitats for the insects.

The maps suggest South Texas is an area of high risk for Chagas infection. Sarkar says there may already be hundreds of undiagnosed cases of the disease.

Chagas can be hard to detect because it can look like the flu at first, with symptoms similar to pains and fever. The symptoms appear to go away but the disease can live in a person for decades, sometimes reappearing in the form of digestive or .

In Texas, where most doctors are not familiar with the disease and are not required to report it to , they may misinterpret its late-onset symptoms as an old age problem, says Sarkar.

"So it doesn't get diagnosed at the beginning, and it doesn't get diagnosed at the end," he says.

Until further research is done, Sarkar and his colleagues won't be able to say for sure how widespread the disease is. They believe the risks are high enough, however, to recommend a few low-cost, low-impact changes to the way the Texas public health system deals with Chagas.

They say Chagas should be designated as a reportable disease, which would require health professionals to report incidences of it to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Efforts should be launched in South Texas to more thoroughly determine the prevalence of Chagas in humans, dogs and wild species (particularly rats) that often act as reservoirs of the disease. And there should be mandatory screening of blood donations for the presence of Chagas. Currently, screening is voluntary and only done with about 65 percent of samples.

In the future, Sarkar would like to see Mexico and the U.S. collaborate on a multi-layered attack on the disease. He points to the success of the Southern Cone Initiative in South America as a model. Simple changes in lifestyle, such as keeping piles of wood away from the home and encouraging people to switch from adobe or wooden houses to concrete, have been effective. Selective spraying for the insects has also been key to decreasing the burden of the disease in South America.

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Citation: Chagas disease may be a threat in South Texas, says researcher (2011, October 6) retrieved 19 June 2019 from
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Oct 06, 2011
What a load of rubbish, Vendicar. The budget for the CDC has been repeatedly slashed, and its purpose has shifted from its original purpose to understanding, preventing, and treating primarily diabetes and obesity. Concurrent with funding cuts, the CDC is being increasingly threatened with calls for privatization. Moreover, epidemic investigators earn average $75,000 annually, which is significantly less than they might in a private clinic.

Woe are we should the CDC and similar government oversight fall. Do you really want to put your life in the hands of corporate pharmaceutical interests? Especially after their track record? I don't.

Oct 06, 2011
Regarding the article, though, I think that a lot of important facts are left out. What are the demographic groups most affected by this? What are the vectors for transmission between this group and others?

My wife is Mexican (as in, she was born in Mexico and moved to the US when she was a teenager). I have lived in Texas most of my life and have nothing against Mexicans. I say this to ward off any allegations of racism for what I'm about to say. Now, to my point:

I am willing to wager, based on the geographic concentration of chagas cases on the map above, that a lot of these cases are coming from ethnically and culturally Mexican residents of those areas. I have no facts to point to, but if you look at the demographic distribution in these areas, you will see that they are heavily populated with ethnic Mexicans who are recent arrivals to the US.


Oct 06, 2011
The problem in this instance is that these same populations that are at higher risk for disease are the ones that are at higher risk for poverty--and these are intimately linked.

As I said, I've lived in Texas a long time and I can tell you that the culture in that area is not very tolerant of "illegal" immigrants. This is a group into which many ethnic Mexicans, regardless of their legal status, are grouped. They are shunted, segregated, and oftentimes ignored by the government while Tea Partiers and the like call for their expulsion and complete disenfranchisement from the American system.

It is this system of intolerance and disenfranchisement which pushes many ethnic Mexicans, whether American citizens or not, into self-segregating communities and out of the mainstream. It is this disenfranchisement that prevents their access to education, hygiene, and public utilities (have you ever heard of "The Valley"? Google it and look at the hovels they live in).

Oct 06, 2011
Until we solve the actual social problem of poverty and disenfranchisement of residents in those areas (and all areas), the EPIPHENOMENON (meaning that which emanates from the actual phenomenon, i.e. social injustice) of disease will never be solved, and chagas and other problems will pass from disenfranchised to enfranchised alike.

Oct 06, 2011
Good. The CDC is a government agency and hence pure evil.

I hope you don't use your government regulated car on government regulated roads to go to your job where you are protected from predation by your employers by government regulations. I hope you grow all your own food in soil and with water that are both unregulated by the EPA instead of eating food you buy in a grocery store whose products are regulated by the FDA and Department of Agriculture. Even if you weren't, you'd probably be a little happier to know that the EPA, FDA, and DOA have largely been coopted by corporate interests through "regulatory capture."

Has the CDC ever managed to eradicate a disease? Nope. [So we should a]bolish the CDC and sell it's remains to the drug industry who actually are in the business of fighting disease.

That's like asking if the Mint has ever coined enough money, answering "nope," and suggesting we privatize it to the Fed. Reserve because they're the ones already doing it

Oct 06, 2011
"The budget for the CDC has been repeatedly slashed" - JRDarby

Good. The CDC is a government agency and hence pure evil.

The CDC is actively behind the spread of disease through America in order for it to keep the money flowing for it to "prevent" those diseases.

Has the CDC ever managed to eradicate a disease?

Nope. It is just another government failure.

Abolish the CDC and sell it's remains to the drug industry who actually are in the business of fighting disease.

Vendi - CDC COULD radicate a disease IF they did NOT continually mutate.
Further, CDC is formally called Center for Disease Control AND PREVENTION! They are NOT GOD! If you want to have sex with animals and contract a disease from them that has never seen the face of is CDC going to stop you?
If you want to dig anthrax out of the ground and MAIL it to people, now we have a potential epidemic; Disease outbreak in rural China? IT WILL get to you and me; we WILL need CDC no matter what!

Oct 06, 2011
Communist Claptrap.
This is just pro-gullible warming government propaganda being used to set up the American people so that they can have more of their Liberties stolen.
These so called diseases wouldn't exist if researchers weren't motivated to fabricate them for the purpose of getting in on the government science welfare gravy train.
Vendi- If I did not know better, I would think you are joking..this article is essentially pointing out yet another possible indicator of alleged Global Warming/Climate Change. Diseases, as well as non-native plants and animals that certain cultures have NEVER had to fight, will migrate to new lands and hosts!
I have seen the effects of Chagas God...all those infected need a new heart every so many years. I kid you NOT, this is a disease that absolutely confirms the presence of satan in human affairs or that mother nature has an evil twin! Vendi- you do NOT NOT want anyone you love or hate to EVER get this disease.

Oct 06, 2011
This is a disease that is associated with rural, forested countryside. City people don't have to worry about this generally. Just don't sleep outside near woodpiles. Anyone can get this disease, and the symptoms only appear in a minority of cases, swollen eyes, flu like symptoms I believe. Usually there are no symptoms at all. Chagas affects people to different degrees. Some people carry the disease all their lives without significant problems, others are more sensitive to it and can have their lifespan shortened by a few decades because of long term damage done to the heart.

Up until now, I read that most cases of Chagas reported in the United States were from immigrants who had acquired it in their home countries. Maybe that is changing, hard to say. Chagas is not contagious, so maybe the spread of the insects northward is encouraged by a warmer climate.

Oct 06, 2011
The symptoms of Chagas disease vary over the course of an infection. In the early, acute stage, symptoms are mild and usually produce no more than local swelling at the site of infection. The initial acute phase is responsive to antiparasitic treatments, with 60-90% cure rates. After 48 weeks, individuals with active infections enter the chronic phase of Chagas disease that is asymptomatic for 60-80% of chronically infected individuals through their lifetime. The antiparasitic treatments also appear to delay or prevent the development of disease symptoms during the chronic phase of the disease, but 20-40% of chronically infected individuals will still eventually develop life-threatening heart and digestive system disorders. The currently available antiparasitic treatments for Chagas disease are benznidazole and nifurtimox, which can cause temporary side effects in many patients including skin disorders, brain toxicity, and digestive system irritation.[3][4][5] Wikipedia.

Oct 06, 2011
"but 20-40% of chronically infected individuals will still eventually develop life-threatening heart and digestive system disorders."
But many of the impoverished and poor in the US will NEVER be able to afford the drugs! If you could afford the drugs, you still face a substantial need for a heart transplant every 18 to 60 MONTHS.
No,no,no...this would overwhelm even the best most cost efficient medical system ever devised! Further, Chagas does not mind it if the heart and digestive system it eats is still inside its' mother. I believe, Chagas is NOT filtered by the placenta.
This disease needs to be eradicated with all deliberate haste. Just do a Google search and pull up the images of what this disease does to a human heart - Only a 'human' mind could conceive of such torture and only a satan or nature's evil twin would actually create/make it. Horrible.

Oct 06, 2011
@JRDarby, 210,

You guys need to have your sarcasm detectors re-tuned for more sensitivity.


Stop trolling. We have enough of these idiotic flame wars between fundies, without you starting one 'pre-emptively' every chance you get.

Oct 09, 2011
I don't know about anybody else...but...I know I AM very terrified of a 'PinkElephant' sarcasm intended but, it is unavoidable...!


Oct 12, 2011
The threat to the supply of transfusible blood and human blood products is serious. Human blood products (whole blood, red blood cells, platelets, plasma) are already scarce due to a shortage of qualified donors. Chaga's disease is a *lifelong* parasitic infection, so people who contract the disease (anybody bitten by an infected bug) may NEVER become blood donors.
Other people's *lives* depend on our blood donations.

Oct 12, 2011
(To the tune of Dire Strait's "Money for Nothing")
I want my...
I want my...
I want my...D.D.T.!

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