Little known parasite-disease on the rise in the US

Cases of Chagas, a disease caused by a parasite, have been steadily rising in the United States, but only 1 percent of cases are estimated to have been identified, NBC News reported Aug. 15.

Chagas is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted by the triatomine bug, also known as the kissing bug because it usually bites close to the lips. The bugs defecate on the skin and the parasite contained in the feces can enter a person's body through the nose, mouth or broken skin. Chagas usually affects people in rural Latin America and can only be transmitted person-to-person from mother to newborn, blood transfusions or organ transplants.

Chagas causes serious heart disease in about 30 percent of infected individuals. It initially produces flu-like symptoms but tends to go unnoticed for decades while reproducing in the body. A few drug treatments can eradicate the parasite in the early stages, but once it migrates into tissues and organs, it's harder to detect and defeat. In most cases, patients only see a physician after developing serious complications such as heart rhythm abnormalities or dilated hearts.

The CDC estimates more than 300,000 people in the country have Chagas, but there is a lack of testing and awareness. A large portion of infected people are from Latin America and lacking permanent legal status.

Many physicians are calling for increased screening and treatment to catch the disease early. They also advocate for screening transplant organs. In 2018, a Connecticut man died after receiving a heart infected with Chagas, and the organization that governs transplant policies recently voted to require more testing for such diseases.

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