'Chagas Disease' A New Concern for Local Health Officials

We already worry about Zika, Ebola, and bird flu, and now, Texas health officials the emerging threat of Chagas Disease has them concerned, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Dr Paula Stigler-Granados, a professor at the UTHealth School of Public Health in San Antonio, leads a CDC funded Chagas Disease task force of more than 100 experts nationwide.  She tells News Radio 1200 WOAI that Chagas is uniquely scary.

"It can be without symptoms," she said.  "So you can be without symptoms for decades, and then suddenly you can develop heart symptoms and it can become fatal."

Dr. Stigler-Granados says for that reason, it is difficult to determine exactly how many Texans have Chagas Disease.  She says another dilemma is the fact that drugs do exist that will treat and cure it, but with one caveat.

"You have to catch it before you have symptoms," she said.  "The biggest problem is, how to you know you have it."

Like Zika, Chagas Disease is transmitted by insects, but rather than the mosquito, Chagas is spread by a grotesque creature known as a 'kissing bug.'

She says the method of transmission is as gross as the ugly insect itself.  She says when the kissing bug pierces a human's skin to suck out blood for a meal, it defecates inside the open wound, leading to Chagas Disease.

As many as 300,000 people in the US are believed to suffer from Chagas Disease, although complete numbers are difficult to determine.  She says 16 cases of Chagas have been confirmed in Bexar County, and a total of 91 confirmed in Texas.

Like Zika, Chagas Disease is particularly dangerous for pregnant women.

"We do have to be concerned about women who are pregnant who may have the disease," she said.  "Often children who are born with Chagas Disease have more serious complications."

Dr. Stigler-Granados says the best way to determine if you have Chagas is to undergo a routine blood test. She says blood banks have begun testing the blood of first time donors for Chagas as well.

She says it is also a good idea to secure your home and yard to make it unattractive for kissing bugs.

"They like to live in areas where there is a lot of wood debris, or anywhere they can find a blood meal," she said.  "Anywhere were there is a rat's next, skunks, possums, dogs."

In fact, the local presence of Chagas Disease was confirmed when the working dogs being trained at Lackland Air Force Base all came down with the disease several years ago.

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