UADY receives 6 million pesos to fight ‘kissing bug’ disease

The "kissing bug" causes thousands of parasitic infections in Latin America. Photo: Facebook
The “kissing bug” causes thousands of parasitic infections in Latin America. Photo: Facebook

Mérida, Yucatán — The Autonomous University of Yucatán has received a 6-million-peso grant for vaccine research to combat an insidious parasitic disease that infects thousands across Latin America.

The disease is caused by the nocturnal insect Triatoma dimidiata, known localy as “pic” and to English-speakers as “kissing bugs.”

An August count found twenty cases of Chagas disease in Yucatán, down from 58 in 2016.

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Chagas is one of the 10 “most important neglected tropical diseases,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It is endemic in 21 countries from the United States to Argentina, and between 70 and 100 million people are exposed to the contagion.

Since 2015, researchers from the Parasitology Laboratory of UADY’s Dr. Hideyo Noguchi Regional Research Center have been working on the development of a vaccine for both domestic animals and humans.

Their study is the first of its kind at a regional level and will monitor the disease in animals such as mice, rabbits, guinea pigs and even cats. This is the first round of animal testing after years of lab research.

With this, scientists will learn the damage the disease causes in organs and how to detect it in time to intervene.

The insects that spread Chagas are called “kissing bugs” because they like biting humans around their lips and faces as they sleep, after which they defecate into the wound with feces that harbor an infectious parasite, The parasite then enters the bloodstream and causes Chagas disease, also known as trypanosomiasis.

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Though the disease is generally considered to be mild or even asymptomatic among most, a new study has found that deaths fueled by the infection are much more common than we know — and are going unrecognized.

The disease disproportionately affects poor communities, and most do not realize they are infected.

The disease was first described in 1909 by the Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas, after whom it is named.

Source: La Jornada Maya

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