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Bolivia Marks Key Milestone in the Fight against Chagas' Disease

International commission certifies that vector transmission of this harmful parasitic disease has been halted in the Department of La Paz

Washington, D.C., May 17, 2011 (PAHO) - An international commission says that transmission of Chagas' disease by insects has been halted in Bolivia's most populous department, La Paz, marking an important milestone in the country's and Latin America's battle against this potentially lethal parasitic disease.

The announcement was made last week by the International Evaluation Commission, made up of experts from Brazil, Colombia, and Honduras as well as officials of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) and counterparts from Bolivia's Ministry of Health and Sports. Bolivia's achievement follows intensive control and surveillance efforts carried out by the Ministry of Health over the past decade, with financial support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and technical cooperation with PAHO/WHO.

Chagas' disease is endemic in 21 Latin American countries, affecting an estimated 8-15 million people and causing some 12,000 deaths each year.

A chronic parasitic infection, it is usually acquired in childhood and carried into adulthood, causing problems including heart damage and even death.

Chagas is transmitted primarily by bloodsucking triatomine insects, known as chinches in Central America and vinchucas in South American countries. People become infected with the parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi , when the insect deposits its feces at the site of its bite. Because the insects live in thatched roofs and adobe walls typically associated with poor-quality housing, Chagas is considered a disease of poverty.

Transmission of Chagas can also occur through blood transfusions, congenitally or orally.

In the department of La Paz, prior to 2000, more than half of dwellings in affected municipalities were infested with vinchucas, according to Bolivia's Ministry of Health. By 2010, the rate of infestation had fallen to less than 1 percent, thanks to intensive fumigation and community control efforts, as well as improvements in diagnosis and treatment.

To determine if transmission of the disease had been halted, the Ministry of Health screened blood samples from more than 5,000 children under 5. The finding that only 45 children tested positive, coupled with the entomological findings, led the international commission to declare the interruption of insect transmission of Chagas.

To advance elimination nationally, Bolivia is now working to halt infestation and transmission in the departments of Cochabamba and Potosí.

Other recent milestones in the fight against Chagas in Latin America include:

  • The elimination of insect transmission of Chagas nationally or in significant parts of Argentina, Brazil, Belize, Chile, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.
  • Elimination of the main species of triatomine insects in Costa Rica, El Salvador and two states of Mexico.
  • Universal screening of blood donors for Chagas' disease in 19 of 21 endemic countries in Latin America.
  • Expanded and improved diagnosis and treatment for Chagas throughout the Region.

Chagas' disease is named for the Brazilian infectologist Carlos Chagas, who first described the disease in 1909.

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