Emiliana Rodriguez remembers as a young girl seeing friends play soccer late at night. While the game was ongoing, one of the participants passed away.
The Bolivian native Rodriguez began to fear the night since she didn’t know what had happened, and she had been taught that Chagas, the silent killer, was a “monster” that only came out at night.
The 12,000 people who die from Chagas disease each year—a unique kind of monster referred to as a “silent and silenced disease” that is carried by nocturnal insects and can strike up to 8 million people—included Rodriguez’s acquaintance.
Although Emiliana Rodriguez, 42, moved to Barcelona from Bolivia 27 years ago, she still has Chagas disease, which she calls a “monster.”
“The dread usually happened at night. I occasionally had trouble falling asleep,” she said. “I was concerned that I wouldn’t wake up from my sleep.”
Rodriguez found out she carried the gene for Chagas disease eight years ago while she was expecting her first kid.
She went on, “I was paralyzed with shock and remembered all the stories my ancestors told me about people suddenly dying,” as she recalled the demise of her companion. “What’s going to happen to my baby?” I wondered.
Nonetheless, Rodriguez received medication to stop the parasite from crossing the placenta and infecting her unborn child. Her baby daughter’s test result came back negative.
Elvira Idalia Hernández Cuevas, a mother of an 18-year-old in Mexico, had never heard of Chagas before her daughter was diagnosed with the silent killer.
Mexican adolescent Idalia got Chagas disease by giving blood in her neighborhood near Veracruz. Triatomine bugs, also referred to as kissing or vampire bugs, are known to transmit the disease chagas by feeding on human blood.
“I had never heard of Chagas, so I started to research it on the internet,” Hernández stated in a Guardian interview. “I was appalled to learn that the perpetrator was mute. I had no idea where to go or what to do.
She is not the only one who doesn’t know that these pesky insects could be a source of illness.
Carlos Ribeiro Justiniano Chagas, a physician and scientist from Brazil, discovered the first human case of Chagas disease in 1909.
The global distribution of the Chagas disease has expanded in the last few decades to include the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Oceania.
Kissing bugs emerge from their hiding places at night in low-income rural or suburban dwellings.
If an infected bug bites someone or an animal and then urinates on the skin, there’s a greater risk the victim will scratch the area, which raises the possibility that the excrement may go into open sores or scrapes on the skin and enter the body.
Six to seven million persons worldwide are estimated to have Chagas disease by the World Health Organization (WHO), the majority of whom are oblivious to their condition.
These individuals are headquartered in Mexico, Central America, and South America.
The deadly virus can remain untreated for a lifetime. Chagas kills nearly 12,000 people a year in Latin America, “more people than any other parasite disease, including malaria,” according to the Guardian.
The problem is not widespread, even though these bugs have infected about 300,000 people in the US.
The CDC reports that even among those who never exhibit symptoms, 20–30% may experience potentially deadly heart issues or gastrointestinal issues that can be excruciatingly uncomfortable decades after the initial infection.
A worldwide diagnosis rate of just 10% makes treatment and prevention more challenging.
Hernández and her daughter Idalia visited several doctors in pursuit of assistance, but they knew nothing about Chagas disease or how to cure it.
“I was shocked, terrified, and heartbroken because I believed my kid would pass away. I was particularly anxious since I couldn’t find any trustworthy information, Hernández said.
When Idalia contacted a relative who works in medicine, she got the help she needed.
“In Mexico, the authorities claim that there aren’t many people affected by Chagas and that it’s under control, but that’s not the situation,” says Hernández. “Medical workers lack training and confuse Chagas with other cardiac conditions. Most people are unaware that Chagas exists in Mexico.
The World Health Organization (WHO) categorizes Chagas disease as a neglected tropical disease in terms of global health policy.
Treatment for Chagas illness
Chagas is ignored, in part, because “it’s a silent disease that stays hidden for so long in your body… because of the asymptomatic nature of the initial part of the infection,” according to Colin Forsyth, a research manager at the Drugs for ignored Diseases Initiative (DNDi).
Forsyth added, “The affected just don’t have the power to influence healthcare policy.” to his earlier remark. It’s kept secret because to a convergence of biological and social problems.
As the illness spreads to other continents, it has recently come to light that Chagas disease can be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth and through blood transfusions and organ transplants.
The Chagas Hub was established by Professor David Moore, a physician at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London, with the goal of “more people being tested and treated, and to manage the risk of transmission, which in the UK is from mother to child,” he added.
In response to the WHO goal of eradicating the illness by 2030, Moore said, “I can’t conceive that we’ll be anywhere close by 2030. Progress toward eradicating Chagas is “glacial.” That is incredibly unlikely.
According to Moore, the 50-year-old or older treatments for Chagas disease are “toxic, unpleasant, and not particularly effective.” Nifurtimox and benznidazole are two of these medicines.
The same medications may be able to stop or slow the condition in an adult, but this is not guaranteed in the case of newborns.
The worst symptoms Rodriguez experienced were an allergic rash, lightheadedness, and nausea. Now that her therapy is through, she only needs yearly checkups.
Moore contends that more effective treatment is necessary to stop the spread of Chagas disease, but pharmaceutical companies do not currently perceive a profit in creating such medications.
Hernández’s goal as president of the International Federation of Associations of People Affected by Chagas Sickness (FINDECHAGAS) is to raise awareness of the disease so that more cures can be developed.
What should I do if I think I’ve uncovered a triatomine bug?
To stop this “monster,” Rodriguez is currently in Spain, collaborating with the Barcelona Institute for Global Health to increase public understanding of Chagas disease.
The silence is getting to me, says Rodriguez. “I want people to discuss and be aware of Chagas. I want everyone to receive testing and care.
Furthermore, people are listening to them.
The World Health Organization designated April 14 as World Chagas Disease Day in recognition of the day in 1909 when Carlos discovered the first human instance of the disease.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Global targets for 2030 and milestones are set to prevent, control, eliminate and eradicate a diverse set of 20 diseases and disease groups.” Chagas is also covered.
The following steps are suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent an infestation:
The areas between the floor, ceiling, walls, and doors should be filled in.
Remove any debris from the area around your property.
Use broken window and door screens after repairing them.
Any entrances to the outside, the basement, the attic, and the remainder of the home should be sealed off.
Allow animals to sleep inside, especially at night
Maintain cleanliness and routinely check for pests in your home and any outdoor spaces where your pet spends time.
If you come across a kissing bug, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise against killing it.
Better options include carefully putting the bug in a container with rubbing alcohol or freezing it in water.
The insect should then be taken to a university lab or a health organization for identification while still in its container.
The idea that these insects live inside our walls is unsettling; it reminds you of childhood tales about “monsters in the walls.”
We hope the WHO fulfills its commitment to eradicating Chagas and other neglected tropical diseases.