The international research community needs to focus more attention on Chagas' disease – an infectious disease that kills 50 000 people a year, states an Editorial in this week's special cardiology issue of The Lancet.
Chagas' disease, prevalent in Latin America, is caused by infection with the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. An estimated 18 million people are chronically infected with the parasite and about 100 million are at risk of infection in 21 countries in Latin America. The parasite is transmitted to humans by blood sucking insects that live usually in cracks in the walls of mud and straw houses common to poor communities. The most common cause of death in infected people is heart failure.
The Editorial highlights the many problems facing Chagas' disease. Prevention of the disease by insect control is hugely expensive. The disease has no initial symptoms. It becomes chronic in many but there is no way of telling in whom. The poor quality of the existing diagnostic test means that it cannot be diagnosed with confidence. There is no vaccine or effective treatment, and no test to demonstrate cure. And drug companies are not interested in developing treatments for the disease. "Would this unacceptable situation be any different if Chagas' disease was endemic to a richer continent?" asks The Lancet.
The Editorial concludes: "So what is needed for this most neglected of neglected diseases with profound cardiac consequences to gain more interest from the world research community? A full and frank discussion at the upcoming World Cardiology Congress would be a good place to start."
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