Chagas is an infectious disease caused by single-celled parasites and transmitted to humans by blood-sucking bugs. With globalization and migration, however, Chagas disease is increasingly evolving from an endemic disease confined to Latin America to a global threat to health systems in North America and Europe.
Chagas – The underestimated danger
According to World Health Organization (WHO) about ten million people are infected with Chagas disease, and more than 10,000 die each year. The disease is widespread, especially in Latin America, where almost a quarter of the population are affected in some areas. The effects are dramatic, both for patients and their families and for the economic performance of the countries affected. The WHO estimates the productivity losses caused by Chagas disease at 1.2 billion dollars per annum.
Early treatment can save lives
The pathogen – the single-cell parasite Trypanosoma cruzi – is spread by assassin bugs, which find ideal living conditions in the cracks of unplastered mud huts. This means that people in simple living conditions are most at risk.
Minor, flu-like symptoms appear directly after infection. However, they are so non-specific that they are often misinterpreted – yet the disease is completely curable with drugs at this stage. About two months later, Chagas disease enters a chronic stage that progresses for years, leading to severe organ damage and finally to sudden cardiac death.
Education and early diagnosis and treatment are key in the fight against Chagas disease.
Bayer supports the WHO in the fight against Chagas disease
Bayer supplies the WHO with a drug containing an active ingredient called nifurtimox to treat Chagas disease. Nifurtimox is on the WHO’s list of "Essential Medicines." Bayer, the only manufacturer of nifurtimox worldwide, has given the WHO a permanent supply guarantee for the drug.
Since 2004 Bayer has furthermore been supporting the WHO in the fight against Chagas disease with drugs and financial assistance for logistics and distribution. In 2011 the agreement was renewed early, doubling the number of tablets provided to 1 million per year. At the same time, Bayer is researching a special dosage for children, since they are particularly vulnerable.
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World distribution of Chagas disease cases, 2006-2010
Source: Substaining the drive to overcome the global impact of neglected diseases: Second WHO report on tropical diseases (2013)
Number of cases worldwide: Approx. 7-8 million, primarily in Latin America
Transmission: The Trypanasoma cruzi virus is transmitted mainly by assassin bugs, whose infected feces find their way into the wounds left by the insect’s bite or are transmitted through the mucus membranes. Infection is also possible via food, blood or organ transplants. Another important transmission route is the infection of a newborn infant by an infected mother during birth.
Course of the disease: During the acute stage (up to about two month after infection), which is characterized by flu-like symptoms, the disease is completely curable with drugs. During the chronic stage, progressive organ damage develops over several years; the result is often a sudden cardiac death.
The main things that need to be done: Combat the assassin bug; monitor stored blood and donated organs; run early-diagnosis and early-treatment programs in areas that are at risk; screen pregnant women to avoid mother-child transmission during birth. Available therapies: benznidazole, nifurtimox.