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The History of Chagas Disease


The History of Chagas Disease

Dietmar Steverding. Parasit Vectors.


The ancestor of Trypanosome cruzi was probably introduced to South American via bats approximately 7-10 million years ago. When the first humans arrived in the New World, a sylvatic cycle of Chagas disease was then already well established. Paleoparasitological data suggests that human American trypanosomiasis originated in the Andean area when people founded the first settlements in the coastal region of the Atacama Desert. Identification of T. cruzi as the etiological agent and triatome bugs as the transmission vector of Chagas disease occurred within a few years at the beginning of the 20th century. History also teaches us that human activity leading to environmental changes, in particular deforestation, is the main cause for the spread of Chagas disease. Recently, migration of T. cruzi-infected patients has led to a distribution of Chagas disease from Latin America to non-endemic countries in Europe, North America and western Pacific region.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Carlos Ribeiro Justiniano das Chagas in his laboratory at the Federal Serotherapy Institute in Manguinhos, Rio de Janeiro. The Brazilian hygienist, scientist and bacteriologist identified the protozoan parasite T. cruzi as the causative agent of Chagas disease. Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Oswaldo Gonçalves Cruz. The Brazilian physician, bacteriologist and epidemiologist was the mentor of Carlos Chagas who discovered American trypanosomiasis. Cruz founded in 1900 the Federal Serotherapy Institute which was renamed in 1905 to Manguinhos Experimental Pathology Institute, then in 1908 to Oswaldo Cruz Institute and finally in 1974 to Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz)). Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Chemical structures of compounds used in the treatment and control of Chagas disease. Benznidazole and nifurtimox are drugs for chemotherapy of acute Chagas disease. Crystal Violet is used in blood banks to eliminate T. cruzi from infected human blood. Lindane (an organochlorine) and deltamethrin (a synthetic pyrethroid) are insecticides used in the control of triatomine vectors.
Figure 4
Figure 4
Estimated number of Chagas cases in non-endemic countries. Only countries with more than 100 expected cases of T. cruzi infection among immigrants were included. The insert shows those countries with less than 5000 expected cases. Data were taken from [70] (United States, Canada and Australia) and [71] (European countries).

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