According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), between six and seven million people worldwide, predominantly in Central and South America, are infected with the Trypanosoma cruzi species of trypanosome. This single-celled (protozoan) parasite causes Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis), which in the acute phase is inconspicuous: only in every third case does the infected person develop any symptoms at all, which can then be unspecific, such as fever, hives, and swollen lymph nodes. However, the parasites remain in the body, and many years later chronic Chagas disease can become life-threatening, with pathological enlargement of the heart and progressive paralysis of the gastrointestinal tract. There is no vaccine against the pathogen and treating the disease in the advanced stage is difficult. That is why the focus in Latin America is rather on controlling the insect that transmits Chagas trypanosomes: the predatory blood-sucking bug (image) of the insect subfamily Triatominae. It ingests the trypanosomes during the sting, which then colonize its intestine. Through its feces that it mostly deposits next to the bite, the bug excretes the pathogen, which is often rubbed into the wound when scratching the extremely itchy bite.
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