Across barriers and borders: An analysis of Chagas disease (American Typanosomiasis) in Mexico and the United States

TitleAcross barriers and borders: An analysis of Chagas disease (American Typanosomiasis) in Mexico and the United States
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsBurwell, Lindsey
Academic DepartmentBiology
Thesis AdvisorBruslind, Linda
DegreeBA, International Studies in Biology
Number of Pages48
Date Published06/2005
UniversityOregon State University
Thesis TypeUndergraduate
Keywordsbiology, Chagas, Mexico, United States

Chagas disease (American Trypanosomiasis), a protozoan parasite that infests itself in the major organs of the body, remains a problem in much of Latin America and especially in Mexico. Between 16 and 18 million people are inflicted with Chagas disease throughout Latin America with over 100 million at risk for contracting the disease (WHO 2005). An insect vector that lives in the walls of inadequate housing, usually in rural areas, transmits the parasite to humans. Chagas disease has long remained neglected because, until recently, it only infected the most marginalized populations of poor, rural Latin America. With the huge influx of rural workers to urban centers in the 1960-1980s due to economic hardship, Chagas disease began a second mode of transmission through blood transfusion. This change led to a more diverse infected population and an increased awareness of the disease by most endemic countries. Three initiatives since 1991 have provided aid in research, interruption of vectors, and prevention in order to control Chagas. These programs have made large strides against eradication and are continuing their work with Chagas disease. Mexico is the only endemic country not to have a national prevention program for Chagas and with almost 80,000 new infections each year, there is an urgent need for unified action (Ramsey 2003). Progarms in Ecuador have shown that a community-based approach to education with the election of health liaisons within different groups of each community is an affective way to reduce the risk of transmission of Chagas disease. Home improvements using cement and metal to replace adobe, bamboo, and thatch make houses an inhospital environment to the insect vector and reduce the chances of residents being infected. By having homeowners participate in the financing and labor during the construction of the house, a greater pride is taken in the home that manifests in a strong desire to keep it clean and insect free.
With the immigration of millions of Mexicans to the United States, Chagas disease has now become a risk for the US population. There have been several cases in recent years of organ transplant and blood transfusion recipients that contracted Chagas disease from organs or blood contaminated with Typanosoma cruzi (the parasite cause of Chagas disease) in the United States. Chagas disease is also a burden to our health care system and the current and potential economic costs are astounding. A concerted effort to control Chagas disease is needed between the United States and Mexico, collaborating on both research and funding of programs. The United States, as with other countries, has the obligations to protect itse citizens from chronic preventable diseases and in doing so has the responsibility to aid Mexico in starting prevention programs, which in turn will diminish teh numberof Chagas patients in the United States.