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Texas: Chagas disease seems to be widespread and underreported

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  • Texas: Chagas disease seems to be widespread and underreported

    Chagas Watchdogs

    Can screening dogs for Trypanosoma cruzi antibodies inform public health officials about the risk of Chagas disease to people?

    By Tracy Vence | September 1, 2014

    Dogs infected with Trypanosoma cruzi?the parasite that causes Chagas disease?may not show symptoms for years until, one day, their hearts fail. T. cruzi can infect animals that ingest or are bitten by assassin or ?kissing? bugs, a variety of insect species in subfamily Triatominae that are widespread in the Americas. Left undetected and untreated, Chagas can become chronic and fatal in canines. Some humans infected with Chagas face a similar fate. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 8 million people worldwide have Chagas disease?and most of them don?t know it.

    The disease and its vectors are endemic to South and Central America, but both are spreading north, and confirmed cases of canine Chagas are on the rise across Texas, especially in southern portions of the state. Last year, the Texas Department of State Health Services made animal Chagas a notifiable condition, meaning veterinarians must report cases of the infectious disease to health officials within a week of confirming them.


    Last year, she and her colleagues sampled 205 dogs of various breeds and ages from seven shelters across Texas, screening the animals for a suite of vector-borne and zoonotic diseases, including Chagas. Testing pathogen and parasite exposures in shelter dogs could provide a proxy for human exposure in the same regions because those animals are more likely to encounter insect vectors than are pets in homes. ?Many dogs at shelters show up as stray dogs or come from a background where they probably spent a lot of time outdoors,? Hamer says. ?We thought going to the shelters would be good because it could provide a very sensitive signal of pathogen exposure on the landscape.?

    Eighteen of the 205 shelter dogs (8.8 percent) were seropositive for T. cruzi antibodies.

    We?re using shelter dogs?and dogs in general?as sort of an index of risk across the landscape,? says Curtis-Robles. ?This is a way that we can somewhat quickly assess the [Chagas disease] risk in certain areas across the state.?
    More: The Scientist
    ?Addressing chronic disease is an issue of human rights ? that must be our call to arms"
    Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief The Lancet

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