Chagas disease, a potentially deadly ailment that afflicts an estimated 8 to 11 million people worldwide, has been dubbed “the new AIDS of the Americas” in an editorial in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. According to a May 28, 2012 New York Times article, the editorial’s authors say the spread of Chagas through this hemisphere resembles the early spread of HIV.
Chagas is caused by a parasite transmitted primarily through a bite from the triatomine, or “kissing” bug—so-called because it frequently bites humans on the face. Difficult to cure, Chagas can cause swelling and mild, flu-like symptoms in the short term and, over the long term, gastrointestinal disease and heart failure that can lead to death. It affects mostly the poor in Central and South America as well as immigrant populations in the U.S.
Two Harvard School of Public Health students are currently working to put the disease squarely onto the world’s radar screen. Jennifer Manne, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Global Health and Population, and Callae Snively, who recently graduated with a master of science degree from the Department of Health Policy and Management, have been examining a host of Chagas-related issues—such as how best to control the bugs that transmit the disease and how to ensure patients can access available medicines.