Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It’s a Small World -- Watch Out for New Diseases

(ARA) - Increasing travel -- global travel in particular -- is leading to new diseases spreading from country to country. Chronic Wasting Disease, Monkeypox, Avian Influenza -- you name it and chances are it moved quickly from one country to the next.

One of the latest diseases starting to show up in the United States is Chagas Disease, a condition that rarely causes early symptoms, but if left untreated, can cause an enlarged heart or an irregular heartbeat which can be potentially life threatening. Here is some helpful information for you, your family or your pets in the event you live in an area of the United States that is currently impacted by the disease -- or are traveling to areas of the world where it is common.

What is Chagas Disease?

“Most Americans do not have to worry about contracting Chagas Disease -- even if they are traveling to regions where it is more prevalent,” says Dr. Paul Stromberg, veterinary pathologist at Ohio State University and past president of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists, a professional organization that studies emerging diseases and works to protect both human and animal health. “However, we are seeing increasing incidence in the southwest United States.”

Chagas Disease is most prevalent in areas of extreme poverty and as many as 18 million people in 18 countries throughout Central and South America may be infected. It is the third largest tropical disease burden today. Only 350,000 people in the United States are estimated to have Chagas Disease.

“The vast majority of those infected in the United States originated from countries in infected areas,” says Stromberg. “Large migrations of people and increasing contact with infected regions help to spread the disease from country to country.”

Insect transmission in the United States, according to Stromberg, is extremely rare. More often this disease has been transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. Blood transfusions and organ donation can both be methods to transmit this disease.

Very common in South and Central America, this disease is most often transferred by the reduviid insect, commonly known as the “kissing bug.” Named for its propensity to bite people’s faces, the kissing bug is a nocturnal insect that lives in thatched roofs and cracked walls. Because kissing bugs come out at night, it’s important for travelers to South and Central America to use insect repellant and treated bed nets if they are not staying in well-constructed, air-conditioned hotels.

There is no vaccination to help protect against this disease, but if it is detected and treated, those suffering from it can make a full recovery. Today, blood banks regularly screen for Chagas Disease to protect the blood supply from this type of transmission.

Watch for Chagas Disease in Pets, too

Another important focus area for Chagas Disease transmission is through animals. Dogs, opossums and armadillos are all susceptible to his disease. Since 2003, Chagas has been observed in dogs in the United States. Reports have come from Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.

In South America, domestic dogs are actually reservoirs of the disease. While transmission from dog to human in the United States is unlikely due to our current standard of living, global climate change and changing socioeconomic conditions could make this an important emerging disease in parts of the country.

“Veterinarians as well as pathologists in these states are keeping a keen eye on this condition in dogs,” Stromberg reports. “Chagas disease remains relatively rare in this part of the world, but it is important to continue to take the precautions you normally would to help protect your family and your pets from all possible health threats -- especially when traveling.”

For more information about Chagas Disease, go to the Centers for Disease Control Web site or visit for a quick fact sheet.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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