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Vida Human Health

 
Hope for humans
Our efforts on behalf of dogs hold promise for people with Chagas. Visit often to learn about our progress toward a cure.
300,000+ people in the U.S. are infected, many of whom don’t know it
Triatomines are also known as kissing bugs, cone-nosed bugs, and blood suckers.




Chagas disease is endemic in Latin and South America, however it is increasingly found in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and some Western Pacific countries.

Transmission

Trypanosoma cruzi is the parasite that causes Chagas. T. cruzi is spread by triatomine bugs, also known as kissing bugs. People who live in adobe, straw, palm-thatched, or mud-walled structures, or in wooded areas, are more vulnerable to the bugs. However, triatomines can also invade modern homes in America, like mosquitos or cockroaches do.

Kissing bugs emerge at night and tend to feed on people’s faces as they sleep. Usually infected kissing bugs bite humans, ingest blood, and then defecate on the person, spreading the T.cruzi parasite via a break in the skin or a mucous membrane. Often, the sleeping person unknowingly scratches or rubs the feces into the bite wound, eyes, or mouth.

What should I look for?

Chagas has two phases: an acute phase and a chronic phase.

The acute phase lasts for a few weeks or months after infection. People often don’t realize that they have been infected, because they might not have symptoms—or mild symptoms such as fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting—that can easily be mistaken for something else.

A physical examination can reveal an enlarged liver or spleen, swollen glands, and local swelling (a chagoma) where the parasite entered the body. The most recognizable mark of acute Chagas disease is called Romaña’s sign, which includes swelling of the eyelids on the side of the face near the bite wound or where bug feces were deposited. Even if symptoms develop during the acute phase, they usually fade away on their own, within a few weeks or months. The infection can be more severe in young children and people with weakened immune systems.

During the chronic phase, the infection may remain silent for decades or even for life. However, some people develop:

  • Cardiac complications, which can include an enlarged heart, heart failure, altered heart rate or rhythm, and cardiac arrest (sudden death)
  • Intestinal complications, which can include an enlarged esophagus or colon and can lead to difficulties with eating or with passing stool

What should I do?

Anti-parasitic drugs are traditionally used to treat acute and congenital infections, chronic infections in children 18 years or younger, and reactivation of latent infections in people with weak immune systems. Anti-parasitic treatment is most effective early in the course of infection.

Many physicians in the U.S. are unfamiliar with Chagas or think that it is limited to immigrants from Latin America. However, kissing bugs and Chagas are found in Texas and throughout the southern United States. People who travel to Latin and South America are at risk if visiting rural areas or areas with endemic triatomine bugs. If you think you might have Chagas or been bitten by a kissing bug, visit your healthcare provider. Chagas can be diagnosed by blood tests.

Learn more at: https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/chagas/index.html.

Prevention

If you’re traveling to areas where Chagas is endemic:

  • Use bed nets treated with long-lasting insecticides
  • Wear protective clothing
  • Apply insect repellent to exposed skin
  • Be aware that Chagas also can be transmitted through blood transfusions and foods or drinks contaminated with infected bug feces

In the U.S.:

  • Keep yard and kennel areas clean to eliminate habitat for the bugs, removing brush piles, rock piles, and excessive buildup of leaf litter
  • Control rodents to remove a potential food source for kissing bugs
  • Turn off outdoor lights at night so that bugs aren’t attracted to the house and yard
  • Identify and seal entry points for the bugs into the home
  • Consider using long-lasting insecticide
  • Keep pet food and water bowls inside to prevent contamination with feces from the infected bugs
  • Keep dog houses and poultry coops clean, fill crevices where bugs can hide, and consider using long-lasting pesticides in and around these structures

Treatment


Benznidazole is the drug currently used to treat Chagas in humans. It is effective 47% of the time in the acute phase and 35% of the time in the chronic phase. Benznidazole can also encounter drug resistance in some patients, and it does not arrest heart disease progression.


The Road to a Cure

  • While trying to identify a cure for Chagas in an Irish wolfhound, Roy Madigan D.V.M. comes across a scientific paper documenting a human patient cured from Chagas disease. He reaches out to the paper’s author—Alberto E. Paniz Mondolfi, M.D., M.S., PhD., FFTM RCPS (Glasg)—in Venezuela, and they collaborate on a treatment plan for the dog—who is cured.
  • Testing begins on dogs from surrounding clinics. Blood samples are sent to Dr. Mondolfi’s lab in Venezuela for testing. In spite of rebel insurgents, a firebombing of the lab, and other setbacks, treatment results are promising.
  • Testing and treatment expands to U.S. military working dogs, primates, and marine mammals. Dosages are adjusted and treatment continues to improve. More species are identified as having Chagas disease, making the disease more widespread than previously imagined.
  • The formula is patented and the drug awaits FDA approval for veterinary use.
  • Vida Pharmacal is launched and conducts its first study in human heart cells infected with Chagas.