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The Source: Chagas Disease In Texas

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An estimated 9-11 million people are infected with the Chagas disease. It is transmitted from the bite of the Triatominae bug, or "kissing bug," and after years of being carried can damage the infected person's heart. Chagas was once thought to be containted purely in tropical countries, but Dr. Seema Yasmin a professor of public health at University of Texas, Dallas says that is wrong and that America's blood supply, which doesn't regularly screen for the disease, is in for a rude awakening.

"American's are sitting ducks waiting for an epidemic to happen," she says. "We only offer a once in a lifetime test- that means you go today to donate blood -- have a Chagas test and it's negative. And then you go back to donate six months later, in the meantime you could have gotten infected with this parasite, because you had this one negative test the blood center is not going to test you again," she explains.

That nearly happened to Candace Stark, a San Antonio resident who contracted the disease in 2013. She says when she went to donate blood, she couldn't remember if she had donated blood before and so checked "No" on the form.  

"Had I checked yes, I  still to this day would not know I had Chagas disease." 

She says she had no idea what the disease was and her doctors didn't know much more. The disease has been a neglected tropical disease according to experts and it isn't the only one that is creeping into the United States without people knowing what they are or what to look for.

What is Texas doing to get ahead of this issue? What do you need to know?

Guests:

  • Paula Stigler-Granados, PhD, professor of public health at the UT Health Science Center at the Houston School of Public Health, San Antonio Regional Campus
  • Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine
  • Dr. Seema Yasmin, reporter for the Dallas Morning News and professor of public health at UT Dallas

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive