Experts at the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine have been studying Chagas disease and working on a therapeutic vaccine for it. Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor, identifies important things to know about the kissing bug and about Chagas disease:
Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, is a serious infection caused by a parasitic microorganism, Trypanosoma cruzi, and is transmitted by kissing bugs.
Chagas disease is a leading cause of heart disease resulting in a debilitating and often fatal condition known as Chagasic cardiomyopathy. One in six people with Chagasic cardiomyopathy will die within five years.
An estimated 9 million people are infected in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in impoverished areas. According to the World Health Organization, the largest number of people living with Chagas disease are in poor areas of Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, while Bolivia has the highest prevalence (percentage of people infected).
The infection can be passed from mother to baby. There are an estimated 40,000 pregnant women in North America alone who have Chagas, and they will transmit the infection to their babies around 5 percent of the time.
The CDC estimates that 300,000 cases occur in the United States, mostly imported from Latin America.
Scientists at the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor, including Drs. Kristy Murray and Melissa Nolan Garcia, have uncovered a previously unrecognized level of transmission in the state of Texas.
A high percentage of the kissing bugs in Texas are infected with the trypanosome parasite and show evidence of feeding on human blood.
Dogs also can be infected.
Researchers are finding cases among hunters and campers as well as people who live in poverty in Texas. Those with extended outdoor exposure appear to have the greatest risk of acquiring the disease.
Repeat exposures are likely necessary to acquire infection.
Drug treatments are available, but they do not always work and are highly toxic. In collaboration with the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, the National School of Tropical Medicine is developing a new therapeutic vaccine for Chagas disease.