Chagas Disease: Why You Don't Need to Freak About the ‘New HIV' (VIDEO)

kissing bug"Kissing Bug"Oh jeez, really? Chagas disease? Between zombies and horrible new drugs and god knows what else, the last thing we needed to hear about this week was an epidemic known as the "new HIV/AIDS of the Americas."

But that's exactly what the tropical illness is being called, and, well, the concept is kind of freaking everybody out. Of course!

Chagas is a parasite transmitted by an insect known as "the kissing bug" (which often bites people's lips, for some reason, hence the moniker). The comparison to HIV comes from the disease's long incubation period and the fact that it's pretty much impossible to cure once it hits the chronic phase. And it is indeed a huge problem in Central and South America, particularly for those living in poverty, and more and more cases are being seen in the U.S., mostly in Texas and along the Gulf Coast.

But the similarities between HIV and Chagas more or less end there.

Here's how the diseases are more different than alike:

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HIV/AIDS attacks the body's immune system, while Chagas targets the heart and digestive organs. Complications include inflammation of the heart, esophagus and colon, irregular heartbeat, and, eventually, heart failure.

Unlike HIV/AIDS, Chagas is not sexually transmitted. Chagas CAN be spread through blood transfusion, but blood banks in the U.S. screen for the disease.

Chagas can be cured IF it's diagnosed during the acute phase (though drugs are very costly and currently must be obtained through the CDC as they're not FDA approved). Acute phase symptoms include fever, aches, rash, diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, and loss of appetite, as well as something called "Romaña's sign," which is a "swelling of the eyelids and around the eye on the side of the face near the bite or where infected bug droppings have been rubbed into the eye."

Not so similar to HIV/AIDS after all, right? Not so great, either, but still.

Are you worried about Chagas disease?


Image via Glenn Seplak/Flickr

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