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Chagas Disease: Worse Than Flesh-Eating Bacteria?

At this point, if you haven't heard about the many Flesh-eating bacteria cases that have popped up throughout the United States, you must be living under a rock. Yet, there is one disease that is spreading rapidly through the Americas that has even been referred to as "the new AIDS of the Americas,” and has also been noted as one of the 4 diseases worse than the flesh-eating disease (necrotizing fasciitis).

Chagas disease is quickly becoming a serious medical issue with its rapid spread and limited treatments. It is estimated that around 8 million people in the Americas are already infected, with 300,000 of those cases residing in the United States alone.

The good news is, Chagas is rarely a fatal disease. Though very hard to cure, the infection can be treated with two different drugs. Treatment has not been approved by the FDA, but is available through the CDC. Symptoms of Chagas disease include fever, fatigue, diarrhea, rash, headache, and loss of appetite. More chronic symptoms include swelling of the heart and/or an irregular heartbeat, and difficulty swallowing and defecating.

The disease is much more prevalent in poverty stricken areas where the Chagas disease is mimicking the effect on the population that the AIDS virus had during its early years of spreading.

Chagas disease is caused by a parasite that is contracted by humans through a variety of fashions including bites by blood-sucking insects, contaminated undercooked foods, and contaminated fruit juices. It is also possible to contract this disease through blood transfusions. Other contractions can result from being born from a woman who is infected, living with an infected pet, and spending time in the forest with infected animals including raccoons and possums (*note – not all raccoons and possums carry Chagas disease).

During your busy summer, remember to wash your hands thoroughly, don't eat anything questionable and keep an eye on bug bites. The Mayo Clinic suggests the following for prevention if you live in a high-risk area:

- Avoid sleeping in mud, thatch or adobe houses - Use insecticide soaked netting over your bed - Use insecticides

  Sources: – Mayo Clinic – TIME Healthland
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