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David Mittleman
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Chagas: The New AIDS?

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During the 1980s, AIDS caused a great deal of fear. AIDS was equated with a death sentence and there were many misunderstandings over how it was spread and who was most susceptible to infection. Now, with advancements in treatment, AIDS is no longer the death sentence that it once was and many people infected with HIV can lead nearly normal lives with the use of anti-retroviral drugs. But a recent editorial in a medical journal is causing a stir about a tropical disease that has been dubbed the "new AIDS of the Americas".

Chagas is a tropical disease caused by insects and more than 8 million people have been infected. There are also strong similarities between people infected by Chagas and those infected by AIDS. Both diseases tend to affect people living in poverty and requires extended and expensive treatments. The main difference is that Chagas is not spread through sexual contact, and is only passed by blood-sucking insects.

When an insect carrying Chagas bites you it also excretes the parasite at the same time. When you scratch the itch, Chagas moves into the wound and infects you. Chagas, like AIDS, has two phases: acute and severe. In the acute phase, individuals affected with Chagas may experience fever, sickness, or swelling in one eye. In the severe phase, individuals may develop enlarged intestines or hearts that can burst suddenly and cause death. Although only 20% of infected people develop severe side effects, Chagas is more easily spread than AIDS as it can pass not only through bug bites, but also through contaminated food. The best way to avoid a Chagas epidemic is for public health officials to be aware of the disease and for individuals to be aware of the symptoms.