Heart disease runs in my family and all of my sisters as well as my mother and grandmother all have the same issues, but since we know we’re prone to heart disease, all of us girls were checked early. However, not all families have the benefit of foresight or the means to get regular checkups. For poor families, heart disease may be an even more serious concern because of Chagas disease.

While many different types of heart disease are congenital or caused through poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, Chagas disease is caused by a parasitic infection commonly transmitted through blood-feeding triatomine bugs. Poor communities throughout North America are especially at risk of Chagas disease because of poor-quality housing, inadequate access to health care, education, and vector control.

Research conducted by the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development reports that there has been insufficient political and medical support for gathering specific data, providing diagnosis and treatment, and developing new tools to help treat Chagas disease. This new study has tried to raise awareness about the seriousness of the disease and the effect is has on poor communities.

Dr. Peter Hotez, the editorial's lead author and director of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, says that "we have already identified critical steps to save lives and make breakthroughs in Chagas disease control in North America. This is an achievable public health goal that will also reduce the disease's detrimental economic burden. Greater medical awareness, scientific cooperation between key countries, and public-private partnerships will help us beat this scourge."

Up to 30% of people infected with Chagas disease suffer debilitating and life-threatening heart disease as well as serious intestinal and liver issues. The disease can be transmitted through pregnancy, contaminated food and water, and also through blood transfusions. It’s estimated that over 10 million people worldwide suffering from Chagas, but there is not much information about its effect on the North American population.

It’s also estimated that 40,000 pregnant women in North America alone may be infected with T. cruzi which will result in over 2,000 congenital cases of infection to children. Since many facilities don’t offer diagnosis and treatment of Chagas, people are not getting the care they need even when they can afford to see a doctor. Currently, there are two treatments available, but they both cause undesirable side effects, are not safe for pregnant women to take, and are not approved for use in the United States.

Source: Public Library of Science (2013, October 31). Leading cause of heart disease ignored in North America's poorest communities. ScienceDaily.


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