Chagas disease also known as American Trypanosomiasis, is a neglected tropical disease affecting 7-8 million people, primarily in Central and South America. It kills approximately 12,000 people annually. It is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma Cruzi. Chagas Disease is a difficult disease to effectively stop for several reasons. The parasite has a vector of transmission, triatomine bugs, also known as kissing bugs. These insects provide both a reservoir and method of transmission for the disease, exponentially increasing the difficulty of treating or eradicating such a scourge. Furthermore, initial symptoms are mild, reminiscent of a flu. Around 60% of those infected may not develop any symptoms at all. As a result, even accurate estimates of how many people around the world might be affected become difficult to ascertain. A huge number of people infected never exhibit even the mild flu-like symptoms of the non-chronic infection. Of those patients who do experience symptoms, around 30% enter into the ‘chronic’ stage of infection. It is there that the infection causes the enlarging of various organs, most dangerously the heart valves. If heart valves suffer too much damage, heart failure may occur, resulting in the highest number of Chagas related deaths. Another 10% of patients may develop a chronic Chagas infection of the bowel.
Chagas is able to be transmitted through the bite of an infected insect, through exposure of the insect’s feces to a mucoidal membrane in the body (eyes, nose, mouth) and through the direct transmission from a mother to her child in vitro. Chagas is interesting because it goes unnoticed in so many patients, creating a reservoir of disease that is very difficult to detect or attack directly since so many patients are asymptomatic.
Chagas Disease infects many important muscle tissues around the body. It infects the heart muscle, putting a great deal of stress on that vital organ. Chronically infected patients may develop heart dysfunctional disease, which can lead to heart failure and death. Another possible complication is an enlarged colon or esophagus, leading to digestive issues or constipation. Possible diagnostic tests for Chagas include an EKG to determine if heart damage has occurred or putting stool under a microscope to search for the protozoans. This new study highlights a treatment that has been shown effective at reversing and or treating the heart damage associated with Chagas disease. Resveratrol could effectively manage the deadliest and most debilitating symptoms of Chagas, however it does not provide a cure, merely a treatment. Recently, scientists have identified a new compound detailed in this study which has shown exceptional promise at defeating a class of common diseases to which Chagas belongs. This class of diseases are known as kinteoplastids, and includes leishmaniasis, sleeping sickness, and Chagas disease. There were no apparent side effects in the mice tested.