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Chagas a threat for travellers to Latin America

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has hosted information on its website information about the disease, also known as American Trypanosomiasis.

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There is a word of caution for those travelling to Latin America, US, Canada, European and Western Pacific countries. After H1N1, your next big threat could be Chagas, a potentially life-threatening illness.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has hosted information on its website information about the disease, also known as American Trypanosomiasis. The website says Chagas is caused by protozoan parasite Trypanosoma Cruzi (T. cruzi). The disease is mostly found in Latin America, where it is transmitted to humans through the faeces of triatomine bugs, known as ‘kissing bugs’. Other vehicles for its spread include blood transfusion, vertical transmission (from infected mother to child) and organ donation.

An estimated 1 crore people have been infected worldwide, mostly in Latin America . More than 2.5 crore are at risk of the disease. In 2008, Chagas is estimated to have killed more than 10,000 people.

In chronic cases, parasites hide in the heart and digestive muscle leading to cardiac disorders in 30% patients and digestive (enlargement of the oesophagus or colon), neurological or mixed alterations in 10%. The infection can lead to sudden death or heart failure caused by destruction of heart muscle.

The disease has not reached India so far but with increased mobility, that possibility cannot be ruled out. “There are many diseases that do not infect Indian people immediately but slowly make through their way in through migration or travelling,” RP Vashisht, head of public health in Delhi government, said.

Vashisht, however, said the possibility of Chagas infecting Indians is remote. However, doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) said people travelling to endemic countries need to be careful. “Chagas’ threat potential is low. However, people travelling to affected counties need to be careful,” Dr Sanjeev Sinha, department of medicine at AIIMS, said.

There is no vaccine for Chagas. Vector control is the most effective method of preventing it and blood screening is needed to prevent infection. Chagas can be treated with either benznidazole or nifurtimox.

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