Photo: Researcher Sahotra Sarkar says Chagas disease is now spreading in Texas
According to research from The University of Texas at Austin, a disease common in rural Latin America, which causes life-threatening digestive and heart disorders, has south Texas at greater risk than previously thought.
Sahotra Sarkar, professor of integrative biology and philosophy at UTA, said Chaga disease is spreading partially due to lack of reporting on the part of doctors, as they are not required to report the illness to health departments. Also, doctors in Texas are less familiar with the disease and can misdiagnose a patient, believing they have the flu, as initial symptoms.
“So it doesn’t get diagnosed at the beginning, and it doesn’t get diagnosed at the end,” he says.
The disease is carried by the protozoa Trypanosoma cruzi which are carried by triatomine bugs also known as kissing bugs, assassin bugs, or cone–nosed bugs and have killed humans, dogs, and other animals.
In his report, Sarkar said, “We’ve been studying this for four years now, and this year the number of disease-causing insects is quite amazing.”
He added that with all the unreported cases, there could already be hundreds of people with or who have already died from this illness.
Symptoms of the disease during the acute phase are fever, malaise, swelling of one eye, and a swollen red area where they were bit by the insect, though early on, no symptoms may be present. The disease then tends to go into remission, often times for years, before it presents itself once again, causing constipation, digestive problems, abdominal pain, enlarged lymph nodes, enlarged liver and spleen, irregular heartbeat, rapid heartbeat, and problems with swallowing.
When it returns, which could be as much as 20 years after the initial infection, it can cause cardiomyopathy, englarge the colon and/or esophagus, heart disease, heart failure, and malnutrition.
Sarkar stated that he would like to see Mexico and the U.S. work together to attack the disease, and pointed to the methods used by the Southern Cone Initiative in South America.