This site is devoted towards educating the public, health care professionals, and veterinarians about the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. We’ll talk about how transmission occurs in both humans and animals. Sometimes you may hear the disease referred to as American Trypanosomiasis. But no matter what you call it, it’s important to learn how insect vectors carry and transmit the infection. Why is this so critical you may ask? Especially if you’ve never even heard of this type of affliction before? Because this disease can have deadly consequences.
Let’s discuss this in more detail. Caused by a parasite, Trypansoma cruzi, a single celled organism that burrows its way into the heart muscle, it is not a disease to be taken lightly, nor is watching someone you love die from the disease a pleasant prospect. In February, 2006 I had never heard of the word, “Chagas” and had no idea that in this day and age of technology and medical advancements, that a disease that causes 50,000 deaths per year and threatens over 120 million at risk people in twenty-one countries could be so “concealed”. My knowledge of the disease and its effects would grow as I slowly and painfully watched my beloved Mastiff’s body become ravaged from the microscopic, single celled parasites as they waged war on his heart, nerves, muscles and brain and left his tissues filled with dead and dying cells.
Why Is Learning About This Deadly Blood-Borne Parasite So Important?
In Latin America Chagas is the fourth leading cause of death, and as populations of both people and insects migrate, the disease is becoming more prevalent in the United States and a risk to our blood supply.
How could it be that in the United States it is largely unknown to the general public? Did you know that our blood supply is not screened for the disease, and it is estimated that up to 370,000 patients with the infection reside in the US? No routine testing of donated blood units for the presence of T. cruzi, the organism that causes Chagas, is done by U.S. blood banks.
(Update: Back in 2006 when this site was first published, there was no routine screening for Chagas that was done by US blood banks. Now, in 2012, screening is done by a majority of the blood banks, although in the United States, there is still not 100% screening of blood donors for antibodies to Trypansoma cruzi.)
At least three cases of American trypanosomiasis, in the U.S. have resulted from patients receiving infected organs from a Chagas’ positive organ donor, and at least 7 patients have been reported to have been infected by receiving Chagas’ tainted blood transfusions.
It is difficult to obtain accurate statistics either on deaths caused by Trypanosoma cruzi. Most victims of the disease are unaware that they are even infected, as are their doctors. Testing is rarely done in the US, even in patients with cardiac disease which is one of the leading causes of death in the country. T. cruzi infections are often missed, more than they are diagnosed, both in animals and in humans.
At least 400 dogs have died from Chagas in Texas, yet these are only the cases that were discovered and reported. How many animals with cardiac disease or heart attacks are actually sent for extended testing following their death? In Texas alone it is estimated that the insects which transmit the disease are infected at a rate of 17-48%. Other states may not even do any testing for the disease in insects, thus it is difficult to say exactly how many insects are positive for the disease in your area.
Ask your veterinarian to do a test on your animals, and you will likely be told that it’s “not necessary”. Tell that to Nan whose cheerful, one year old Labrador Retriever, died in their front yard near San Antonio, one morning soon after been diagnosed . Or perhaps you may not know that Becky and Wendell Oliver’s 3 month old Labrador “went from a bundle of energy to a limp, wheezing wreck in less than 24 hours. After a rushed trip to the vet, the puppy died next to his water bowl in the Oliver’s garage.”
The disease destroys the heart muscle and may also target the esophagus, colon and brain. A sonogram done on my Mastiff showed a flabby, overstretched, dilated heart muscle, quivering and fluttering. His heart would try to compensate for the lack of pumping ability by adding in extra beats, then racing out of control. The next few weeks saw my dog age years and even the simple act of going outside became laborious for him. As the disease progressed, each night I’d hear “crackles” in his breathing and have to give diuretics to keep him from drowning in the fluids that were beginning to back up in his lungs.
My goals for this site are simple. To bring the disease of Chagas out in the open so that you, the readers of the site, and the public are aware of the disease. My hope is that you’ll gain useful information and will be prepared to protect your home, children, and pets and prevent them from being infected, to the best of your ability. And when the public is armed with additional knowledge, then hopefully there will be a push for better diagnosis and treatments for this problem. If we do not act upon this disease soon, my fear is that it will progress to a point where it may be extremely difficult to control. Early detection, vector elimination or reduction, and better testing can only be helpful in a disease of this nature. Please pass this site onto your friends, family and anyone you know who may be interested in spreading the word about this problem. May you never have to experience the pain of losing a loved one to an illness that could be prevented.
Photo Credits for Logo: Special Thanks to Glen Seplak Â (gauchocat), photographer extraordinaire, for his photos which I’ve used in the logo for this site.