Friday, February 18, 2011

Argentina needs sustained effort to eradicate Chagas' disease

Marcela Valente in IPS: One of the potential impacts of climate change that arouses most concern is an increase in diseases transmitted by tropical insects, like Chagas' disease, Argentina's main endemic illness. However, while they are aware of shifting climate zones, experts consider the biggest threat of expansion of Chagas' disease to arise not from global warming, but from inadequate control of its transmission vectors (insect carriers), which have already been eliminated in Brazil, Chile and Uruguay.

"Vectors capable of transmitting the disease are present in 19 of Argentina's 24 provinces," epidemiologist Sergio Sosa-Estani, head of the vector-borne disease unit at the Health Ministry, told IPS. "In some areas, the vectors are under control, but if vigilance lapses, they are back within two years." His unit has registered close to two million infected persons, 30 percent of whom will go on to develop heart problems.

…The disease is caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted to humans by Triatoma infestans, a blood-sucking insect known in the Southern Cone of South America as the "vinchuca", which lurks in crevices in the mud walls or thatched roofs in the houses of the rural poor.

....He emphasised that to keep the disease under control, houses must be sprayed, walls must be smoothed or plastered, thatched roofs should be avoided, and hen runs or animal pens should not be located close to bedrooms. Boxes containing clothing or shoes may also be hiding places for vinchucas and should be removed.

...Biologist Ricardo Gürtler, a researcher on vector-transmitted diseases, told IPS it was "very difficult to predict the true impact of climate change on the vinchuca and in general terms on the transmission of Chagas' disease.

…Gürtler said some areas of Argentina "still require continuous hard work at the national and provincial levels" to curb transmission of the disease. He stressed the difficulties of implementing national government policies at the local level….

Heart pathology from Chagas' disease, from the US Centers for Disease Control

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