'New HIV/AIDS Of The Americas'

Chagas disease, a tropical illness that is transmitted by biting insects, may pose a major unseen threat to poor populations in the Americas and Europe, according to a report published May 29 in the journal PLoS.

The editorial, which was co-authored by several experts in tropical diseases from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, likens some aspects of the disease to that of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

"Endemic Chagas disease has emerged as an important health disparity in the Americas," the authors wrote. "As a result, we face a situation in both Latin America and the US that bears a resemblance to the early years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic."

Like AIDS, Chagas disease, which is already prevalent in Central and South America, "has a long incubation time and is hard or impossible to cure," The New York Times reports.

The PLoS report found "a number of striking similarities between people living with Chagas disease and people... who contracted the [HIV/AIDS] in the first two decades of the... epidemic." Among other similarities, the paper notes that both are chronic diseases that require prolonged treatment, and disproportionately affect those living in poverty.

To be clear, there are strong distinctions. Unlike HIV, a sexually transmitted disease, Chagas disease is caused by a parasite spread through bites from reduviid insects commonly known as kissing bugs. While HIV/AIDS attacks the body's immune system, Chagas afflicts the heart and digestive organs.

According to the National Institutes of Health, complications from Chagas disease can include inflammation of the heart, esophagus and colon, as well as irregular heartbeat and heart failure. According to Nature magazine, some believe that the disease may have killed Charles Darwin.


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