These bugs emerge at night and attack victims, killing them silently or infecting them for life.

Emiliana Rodrguez recounts as a child watching friends play a nighttime game of soccer when one of the players collapsed on the pitch. Without knowing what had happened, the Bolivian-born Rodriguez became terrified of the night, terrified of the silent killer known as Chagas, a “monster” she was taught only appears at night.

Chagas is a new kind of monster, a “silent and silent disease” spread by nocturnal bugs that infect up to 8 million people each year, and Rodrguez’ acquaintance was one of the 12,000 people died each year.

Emiliana Rodrguez, 42, relocated from Bolivia to Barcelona 27 years ago after realizing she couldn’t get away from Chagas, whom she refers to as a “monster.”

“The terror usually struck at night.” “I didn’t always sleep,” she admitted. “I was afraid of sleeping and then not waking up.”

Rodrguez was pregnant with her first kid eight years ago when she took some tests that proved she was a Chagas carrier. “I was paralyzed with shock and remembered all those stories my relatives told me about people dying suddenly,” she added, recalling her friend’s death. “I thought, ‘What’s going to happen to my baby?'”

However, Rodriguez underwent medication to keep the parasite from infecting her unborn child via vertical transmission. She tested negative after the birth of her daughter.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, Elvira Idalia Hernández Cuevas had never heard of Chagas disease until her 18-year-old daughter was diagnosed with it.

Idalia, 18, was donating blood in her hometown near Veracruz, Mexico, when her sample was examined, resulting in a positive Chagas diagnosis, a condition caused by a blood-sucking parasite known as kissing or vampire bugs.

“I had never heard of Chagas, so I started researching it on the internet,” Hernández told the Guardian. “I was horrified when I read that it was a silent murderer. I had no idea what to do or where to go.”

Many people are ignorant of the vectorborne illnesses caused by these annoying pests, and she is not alone.

Chagas disease is named after Carlos Ribeiro Justiniano Chagas, a Brazilian physician and researcher who discovered the first human case in 1909. Chagas disease has been found in Latin America, North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia over the last several decades.

Kissing bugs are most commonly found in the walls of low-income houses in rural or suburban locations, and they are most active at night when people are asleep. The T. cruzi infection is disseminated by the bug biting an animal or person and then defecating on the skin of its victim, who may scratch the site and break the skin, or move the feces into the eyes or mouth.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 8 million people in Mexico, Central America, and South America–6 to 7 million worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)–have Chagas disease, with the majority uninformed of their illness. If untreated, the lifelong infection can be fatal. Chagas disease kills approximately 12,000 people each year, killing “more people in Latin America than any other parasite disease, including malaria,” according to the Guardian.

Although these bugs have been detected in the United States (about 300,000 persons are affected), they are not considered endemic.

Some people never develop symptoms, however the CDC states that 20 to 30% of people have cardiac issues that can lead to death or gastrointestinal complications that can cause severe discomfort decades later.

Furthermore, the global case detection rate is barely 10%, making treatment and prevention extremely challenging.

Hernández and her daughter Idalia sought help from doctors who, like them, knew little to nothing about Chagas disease or how to treat it. “I was shocked, terrified, and saddened because I thought my daughter was going to die.” Above all, I couldn’t discover any solid information, which increased my concern,” Hernández explained.

Idalia finally received the treatment she required after receiving assistance from a family member who worked in health care.

“The authorities in Mexico say there aren’t many people affected by Chagas and that it’s under control, but that’s not the case,” Hernández explains. “Medical professionals receive no training and frequently confuse Chagas with other heart diseases.” The majority of people are unaware that Chagas disease exists in Mexico.”

Chagas disease is classified as a neglected tropical disease by the World Health Organization (WHO), which means it is not on the global health policy agenda.

According to Colin Forsyth, a research manager at the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), Chagas is underappreciated in part because “it’s a silent disease that stays hidden for so long in your body… because of the asymptomatic nature of the initial part of the infection.”

In reference to the impoverished, Forsyth stated, “The people affected simply do not have the power to influence healthcare policy.” It’s hidden because of a convergence of biological and social factors.”

However, as Chagas disease spreads to other continents, it is becoming more visible, and it is now known that it may be transmitted through blood transfusions and organ transplants, as well as from mother to baby during pregnancy or childbirth.

Professor David Moore, a physician at the London Hospital for Tropical Diseases, established the Chagas Hub, a UK-based facility with the primary purpose of “more people tested and treated, and to manage the risk of transmission, which in the UK is from mother to child,” he added.

Moore stated that progress in removing Chagas is “glacial,” and in response to WHO’s aim of disease elimination by 2030, he stated, “I can’t imagine that we’ll be remotely close by 2030.” That appears to be exceedingly unlikely.”

Chagas can be treated with two medications, benznidazole and nifurtimox, both of which Moore describes as “toxic, unpleasant, and not particularly effective.”

Although it can cure a baby, there is no certainty that the drugs can prevent or slow illness progression in adults.

In terms of serious side effects, Rodriguez recalls breaking out in hives, feeling disoriented, and queasy. She finished therapy and has annual check-ups.

Moore adds that more effective Chagas treatment is crucial in preventing its spread, but there is now little financial incentive for pharmaceutical companies to develop it.

Meanwhile, Rodrguez is in Spain, fighting the “monster” by raising awareness about Chagas disease through the Barcelona Institute for Global Health’s campaign.

“I’m tired of the silence,” Rodrguez admits. “I want people to talk about Chagas and be aware of it.” “I want people to get tested and treated.”

They are also being heard.

The World Health Organization declared World Chagas Disease Day on April 14, 1909, the day Carlos found the first human case. According to the WHO, “global targets and milestones for 2030 are set out to prevent, control, eliminate, and eradicate a diverse set of 20 diseases and disease groups.” This includes Chagas disease.

It’s terrifying to think that these bugs reside in the walls of houses–it’s like hearing horror stories as a child and being afraid of the monster that lives in the walls.

We sincerely hope that the WHO follows through on its vow to eradicate Chagas and other Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Please spread the word about this story to help raise awareness about this quiet disease!


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