Tag Archives: Chile

Chagas’ Disease is NOT the new AIDS: Part I

IN SPITE OF WHAT YOU MAY HAVE READ IN MY FAVORITE NEWSPAPER (the NY Times):

It is a great picture of the bug, though. Why do biting arthropods always have their portraits taken while posing on human flesh?

Chagas’ Disease, while being a medical nightmare, is not the new AIDS.

  • The first, and perhaps biggest problem with this article is calling Chagas’ Disease the “new” anything. Chagas’ disease was discovered in 1909 by a brilliant Brazilian scientist, Carlos Chagas. Chagas’ discovery was justly recognized for this great discovery during his own lifetime.
  • Chagas’ disease is like AIDS, in that it targets certain populations, but that is where the similarity stops. Chagas’ disease is spread by a vector (bugs of the family Reduviidae) that is exquisitely evolved to infect the poor, as it is related to low-quality housing. AIDS does target the poor of the world more than the rich, but there are certain groups that AIDS targeted, or continues to target, that have nothing to do with economic standing. AIDS is not transmitted by arthropod vectors (though there was concern in the early years of the pandemic), but by sexual contact and contaminated transfusions and medical equipment. Chagas’ disease can be spread by transfusion, but this risk is decreasing. As of a few years ago,around two decades after the blood supply began being screened for HIV,  the blood supply in the US began being screened for Chagas’ disease.
  • Chagas’ disease is called a Neglected Tropical Disease. These are diseases that have high prevalence in the hotter regions of the globe, affect a large number of people but yet do not get a lot of attention from the press, their governments, NGOs, and even much of the local population. For example, many residents of Lima (where the power is) don’t even know what Chagas’ disease is, even though it afflicts a large number of Peruvians. Why?  It doesn’t occur in Lima, and public education about the disease does not extend to those who won’t get it, even though they may be the ones most able to help.
  • Stigma: Yes, it sucks to get AIDS or Chagas’ or both together. But tell me from your heart of hearts: Which would you rather tell your co-workers and parents–that you’ve contracted HIV or that you’ve contracted Chagas’. I’m betting on Chagas’. 30 years into the epidemic, and HIV/AIDS still carries a burden unmatched by any other disease.
  • Research funding: No comparison. HIV/AIDS has been a research juggernaut over much of the pandemic. As a result, we’ve made brilliant and amazing progress in treatment and prevention of the disease. Chagas’ disease is still treated by the same two lousy drugs that were used over a decade ago. Some research is being done on new treatments, but I you’d be embarrassed to see the shoestring some of those labs run on. Moreover, most of these studies involve using drugs that were already approved for other indications, such as anti-fungals and anti-malarials.(They ain’t much money to make sellin’ drugs to po’ folk in the developin’ world.)

    No mention of Chagas' disease here.

    No mention of Chagas’ disease here.

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Public Poisoning of Dogs in Chile

I was a few miles above South America, flying on American Airlines flight 2110 (which was late, due to the airline’s inability to have the aircraft in proper working order before we left—local manager Claude Rains was shocked and had all of the usual suspects  rounded up and sent off), and pulled this letter to the editor from the Chilean newspaper, El Mercurio.

Why use man-hours when Strychnine can do the same work for a fraction of the cost?

Even with my Homer Simpson-like abilities in Spanish (“May I have a beer, please” is translated as “MAY I HAVE A CERVEZA, PLEASE”), I could tell that this article was about dealing with stray dogs with the abhorrent practice of poisoning by strychnine.

Strychnine is a potent neurological poison. Death from strychnine poisoning painful , prolonged (several hours), dramatic, and difficult to watch (don’t click if you are squeamish). The following description is from Wikipedia:

Ten to twenty minutes after exposure, the body’s muscles begin to spasm, starting with the head and neck. The spasms then spread to every muscle in the body, with nearly continuous convulsions, and get worse at the slightest stimulus. The convulsions progress, increasing in intensity and frequency until the backbone arches continually. Death comes from asphyxiation caused by paralysis of the neural pathways that control breathing, or by exhaustion from the convulsions. The subject will die within 2–3 hours after exposure. At the point of death, the body “freezes” immediately, even in the middle of a convulsion, resulting in instantaneous rigor mortis.

Of late, Chile has been considered one of the success stories of Latin America. Generally–but often mistakedly– we associate improved social conditions with better treatment of those less who are less able to protect themselves. Cruelty and callousness are contagious, and hard to eradicate. Strychnine poisoning is not the way to control the very serious problem of stray dogs and the diseases associated with them: rabies and serious injury from bites.