The New HIV/AIDS of the AmericasChagas disease, a vector-borne infectious disease that is transmitted through triatomine bugs, has been dubbed “the new HIV/AIDS of the Americas.” Triatomine bugs are also known as “kissing bugs,” because the bugs will bite and defecate near the mouths of humans. Then, humans will touch or rub near their mouths, which is how the disease is spread.

Furthermore, Chagas disease is a type of neglected tropical disease, which have become increasingly virulent in North and South America. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines neglected diseases as being “largely wiped out in the more developed parts of the world and persist only in the poorest, most marginalized communities and conflict areas.” The CDC indicated that people of low socioeconomic status are more susceptible to contracting a neglected tropical disease. People of low socioeconomic status, which are increasingly reflective of minority groups such as women and people of color, are at higher risk of contracting a neglected tropical disease due to a lack of resources.

Like Chagas disease, many neglected tropical diseases are vector-borne, and they must travel through an intermediate host in order to transmit infections to humans. An example of an intermediate host that carries the specific pathogens for an abundance of neglected tropical diseases is the mosquito. Many countries in South America have climates and ecologies that are ideal for mosquitoes to flourish in.

Preventative programs in poor areas are supported by organizations such as the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO). For instance, the CDC and the WHO have both collaborated in order to support the Guinea Worm Eradication Program, which provided surveillance and diagnosed people for Guinea worms, another neglected disease.

Chagas disease is difficult to eradicate due to the fact that more than half of triatomine bugs in the United States carry the disease; however, the CDC reports that the best measures to take in order to prevent the spread of Chagas disease are vector control, blood screening and diagnosis of infection. Diagnosis of infection in pregnant women is especially important, because the disease can spread to their newborns. By continuing to follow these measures, the effect of Chagas disease can be limited, decreasing the burden on vulnerable populations.


Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr