A study denounces the underdiagnosis of Chagas disease in Spain

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It is currently estimated that there are some 7 million people in the world are carriers of Chagas disease and don’t know it. It is one of the 17 diseases considered “forgotten”, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). A disease is considered as such when not enough resources are allocated to it in comparison with the impact it generates in the population. A new study reveals that Of the almost 3,000 Latin Americans analyzed at the Hospital Clínic in Barcelona, ​​47% were infected by the insect that causes Chagas disease. This research has been published by the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Chagas disease is characteristic of Latin America. It spreads through an insect called a vinchuca, which, while sucking blood, deposits feces. This creates itching, and scratching the skin creates abrasions and the parasite (Trypanosoma cruzi) that is in the feces, penetrates into the blood and later into the tissues. When this happens, in almost 20% of cases, Chagas disease is reproduced, which affects the heart and digestive systembeing able to generate death. The WHO estimates that about 10,000 people die each year in the world.

Pedro Laynez He is the co-author of the study and a researcher at the center that led the analysis, the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal). He explains that the research has been carried out 2,820 Latin American people settled in Barcelonathe vast majority coming from Bolivia. “In Barcelona there are many Bolivians”, specifically 18,393, the fourth Latin American country with the largest population in Spain, according to the Statistics Institute of Catalonia. The researcher explains that “in Spain there are many more cases of Chagas than other European countries“. He alludes that this may be due to the great relationship that Latin America has with the country. According to a previous study by ISGlobal, It is estimated that more than 50,000 people in Spain live with Chagas, and 70% would not be diagnosed or treated.

The disease can be transmitted in four ways, the most common being through insect fecesbut it can also be transmission from mother to child during pregnancy, orally through food, blood or organ donations and through laboratory accidents, very rare. Oral infections only occur in endemic countries: “When it has occurred, it has been in the form of outbreaks producing acute disease,” says Laynez. The insect sneaks into fruits that are usually blended to make juice and is eaten. The researcher indicates that this route of transmission occurs mainly in Venezuela.

In Spain, as it is not an endemic country, the mode of transmission is from mother to childtherefore, although the insect is typical of Latin America, the Spanish population is not free of having Chagas disease. Pedro Laynez states that these cases are not many, and therefore do not pose a risk to public health, but an individual risk. “The disease must be made visible because a mother may be transmitting it to her child without knowing it“. It indicates that one of the great problems of the disease, in addition to the fact that it is not known, is that most cases do not present symptoms. The highest percentage of infected people do not develop the disease, but that does not exempt them from carry the parasite. “It is not known when you are no longer at risk, it is a disease that generates a lot of uncertainty, you can develop it at any time.”

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