Chagas Disease: Could Be the New HIV/AIDS, Researchers Claim

Chagas, a disease originating in tropical climates, has been described by some researchers as resembling the HIV/AIDS virus when the first cases of that disease emerged.

The findings were published in the scientific journal PLos and the paper was co-authored by several disease experts from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. "Endemic Chagas disease has emerged as an important health disparity in the Americas," the authors wrote.

"As a result, we face a situation in both Latin America and the U.S. that bears a resemblance to the early years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic."

The disease which is already prevalent in poorer regions in Latin America is like AIDS in so far as the disease "has a long incubation time and is hard or impossible to cure," The New York Times reported.

The paper also highlighted "a number of striking similarities between people living with Chagas disease and people... who contracted the [HIV/AIDS] in the first two decades of the... epidemic."

Those similarities, as the paper notes, are the development of certain chronic diseases that require prolonged treatment as well as the large number of affected poor.

Researchers also stress the fact that there are also some very important distinctions to make as well. Chagas, unlike AIDS, is not sexually transmitted. People contract the disease from a parasite that is spread through the bites of reduviid insects, which are also known as kissing bugs.

Another difference is that HIV/AIDS attacks the body's immune system; Chagas causes problems related to the heart and digestive organs.

"The 'globalization' of Chagas translates to up to 1 million cases in the U.S. alone, with an especially high burden of disease in Texas and along the Gulf coast," according to the report.

"Although other estimates suggest that there are approximately 300,000 cases in the U.S."