Mother infects unborn baby with the 'new AIDS of the Americas' Chagas disease – the first documented congenital case in the U.S.
21:25 GMT, 6 July 2012
A baby boy born two years ago became the first U.S. case of Chagas disease – being called the 'new AIDS of America' – to be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy.
The boy was born in Virginia at 29 weeks in August 2010 after doctors found he had fetal hydrops, the accumulation of fluid in at least two fetal compartments, which they initially thought was caused by a bacterial infection.
It was not until two weeks after he was born that his mother, an immigrant from Bolivia, told specialists she had been diagnosed with Chagas disease in a previous pregnancy, but was not showing any symptoms.
Documented; A Virginia boy born almost two years ago is the first case of congenital Chagas disease reported in the U.S., according to the CDC. A course of medicine cured him of the disease
When the boy was tested, the parasite that cause the disease Trypanosoma cruzi, was present, which is transmitted to humans by blood-sucking insects called 'kissing bugs'.
It is less common for the disease to be transmitted congenitally, as was the case for the Virginia baby.
The World Health Organization says the case highlights the need for increased awareness of the disease in the U.S.
Though the Virginia boy's case is the first documented one, it has been estimated that between 65 and 638 cases of congenital Chagas disease occur in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Once the baby was diagnosed with Chagas disease, he was given a 60-day course of benznidazole. His symptoms cleared up and a repeat test for the parasite almost ten months later came back negative.
Benznidazole and nifurtimox, the anti-parasitic drugs used to treat Chagas disease, are not approved in the U.S., but are available through the CDC for use under investigational protocols.
The mother still has the disease but is showing no signs or symptoms.
The new AIDS A parasitic illness called Chagas disease has been dubbed the 'new AIDS of the Americas' by experts. It is usually transmitted from the bite of blood-sucking insect species called Triatome bugs, which include 'Kissing bugs' (Triatomids)
The parasitic illness has
similarities to the early spread of HIV and, similar to AIDS, it is
difficult to detect and it can take years for symptoms to emerge.
from Latin America are particularly at risk and the CDC recommended
that U.S. obstetrician-gynecologists nned to have increased awareness of
the disease, particularly when treating pregnant women from Mexico and
South and Central America.
agency also warned that the infection has no 'specific clinical signs'
and that 'even severe disease might not be recognised because of the
lack of defining clinical features and because the diagnosis is not
If detected in the first few weeks of life however, the cure rate is more than 90 per cent.
disease was highlighted in the media more than a month ago when a
tropical medicine specialist called the disease the 'new HIV/AIDS of the
Peter Hotez, MD, dean of Baylor College of Medicine's
National School of Tropical Medicine in Houston, wrote: 'Based on the
chronic morbidities and high mortalities, the prolonged and expensive
treatment courses, the lack of therapeutic options, and barriers to
access to essential medicines, a patient living with Chagas disease
faces formidable challenges that resemble those faced by someone living
An estimated ten million people worldwide are infected with most sufferers in Bolivia, Mexico, Columbia and Central America, as well as approximately 30,000 people in the U.S., reported the New York Times.
The disease – once largely contained to Latin America – has spread into the U.S due to increases in travel and immigration.
THE DANGEROUS SPREAD OF CHAGAS DISEASE
Named after the Brazilian doctor who
discovered it in 1909, Chagas disease is a potentially deadly illness
spread by blood-sucking insects including Triatomids most commonly known
as 'kissing bugs', because they bite on the lips.
Like AIDS, the illness is difficult to detect and has a long remission period.
It spreads easily through blood transfusions and from mother to child.
a quarter of victims who contract the disease develop enlarged heart or
intestines that can burst causing sudden death.
An estimated ten million people worldwide are infected, including 30,000 people in the U.S.
Chagas is considered one of the Neglected
Parasitic Infections, a group of five parasitic diseases that have been
targeted by CDC for public health action.
It is estimated that in 2008 Chagas disease killed more than 10,000 people.
Due to the severity of the illness, the amount of people infected and the ability of prevention, Chagas is considered one of the Neglected Parasitic Infections, a group of five parasitic diseases that have been targeted by CDC for public health action.
Chagas commonly affects people in poverty-stricken areas and most U.S. cases are found in immigrants.
If caught early enough, the disease can be prevented with an intense 3-month drug treatment.
However, because of the lengthy incubation period and costly medication, Chagas is often left untreated.
Also known as the American trypanosomiasis, the disease spreads easily either through blood transfusions or, less commonly, from mother to child.
All blood banks in the U.S. and Latin America screen for traces of the disease.
Most blood banks in the U.S began screening for it in 2007.
Chagas is usually transmitted from the bite of blood-sucking insect species called Triatome bugs which release a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi into the victim's bloodstream.
The species includes Triatomids – black wingless beetles about 20mm in length commonly known as 'kissing bugs'. Their closest relative is the Tsetse fly, found in Africa, which spread Sleeping Sickness (where the victim's brain swells).
Chagas disease comes in two phases – acute and severe.
The acute phase may have no symptoms but can present a fever, general feeling of being unwell and swelling in one eye.
Victim: Charles Darwin may have contracted the disease as he travelled the globe on HMS Beagle in his 20s
After the acute phase the disease goes into remission and it can take years before symptoms, such as constipation, abdomen pain and digestive problems, emerge again in the severe stage.
The parasite can eventually make its way to the heart, where it can live and multiply.
About a quarter of the people who contract Chagas, develop enlarged heart or intestines that can burst causing sudden death.
Although the drugs available are not as expensive as those for AIDS, there are shortages of the medication in poorer countries and little money is being spent on discovering new treatments.
Chagas disease is named after Carlos Ribeiro Justiniano Chagas, a Brazilian doctor who first discovered the disease in 1909.
Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine said last year that they believed Charles Darwin suffered from three different illnesses, including a Chagas infection.
The experts believe he contracted the disease during a five-year trip around the globe on the HMS Beagle in his 20s – and attributed it to his death of heart failure 47 years later.
The father of modern life scientists wrote in his journal that he had been bitten by a 'wingless black bug' during the expedition, where he visited South America.