Why Hadn’t I Heard About Chagas’ Disease Previously?

How is it possible that a disease that has infected at least 10 million people, all in the Americas, has gone under the radar for so long? Chagas’ Disease was discovered just over 100 years ago, and is the most common parasitic disease in our hemisphere.

The truth is that Chagas’ Disease infects only people who are not going to influence the headlines. The vector–that is, the insect responsible for transmitting the disease–is exquisitely evolved to infect only the poor.

How can an insect probe your pocketbook?

Assassin bugs–at least the ones that have historically been the most responsible for the spread of the disease– have characteristics that cause them to pick on the impoverished.

  • They live in the cracks of the walls of houses. If the house is made of mud, it’s virtually an assassin bug housing project. Also, in many places, people  are living in the houses while they build them–each part gets completed as money is available. A brick wall that hasn’t been plastered yet is another prime hiding place for the vinchucas.
  • Assassin bugs are strictly nocturnal. Therefore, just visiting an infested house isn’t going to result in a bite–one has to sleep in one in order to get bitten. Assassin bugs can fly, but they tend not to fly much or far. So unlike malaria, which is spread by mosquitoes, an insect that is far much harder to escape, avoiding the assassin bug is rather easy.
  • Standing in front of ideal assassin bug habitat

    Lacking stucco or plaster, a brick wall is a vinchuca's paradise

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