THURSDAY, July 5 (HealthDay News) -- As many as 300,000 people in the United States may have chronic Chagas disease -- mostly spread by blood-sucking insects -- health officials report.
However, the first confirmed U.S. case of transmission from a mother to a newborn was recently documented, adding to ongoing concern about this parasitic disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Most people with Chagas disease in the United States are immigrants from areas in Latin America, where the disease is endemic, the report said.
While Chagas is treatable and curable, it often goes unrecognized. Untreated, the infection is lifelong.
"Only a few people who are infected develop early symptoms," said Dr. Anne Moore, a CDC medical epidemiologist. "The vast majority have such mild symptoms, or no symptoms, that they don't know they are infected."
The parasite stays in the blood system and gradually causes disease in the tissues it affects -- and the tissues it likes the most are heart muscle, Moore said.
"About 30 percent of those infected will develop serious cardiac disease, which can be fatal," she explained.
Chagas is spread by triatomine insects, which can carry the parasite that causes the disease. People become infected when the bug feeds by sucking blood. The insects are also called kissing bugs because they tend to bite around the face, Moore said.
While most people who have Chagas are from Latin America and Mexico, the insects that cause the disease are common across the lower southern, eastern and western United States, according to the CDC.
Whether the species of these bugs found in the United States carry this parasite isn't known, Moore said.
"We really don't have good information about whether there is a lot of transmission in the United States -- there has been a handful of cases, but no one is
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