February is American Heart Month and a good time to spotlight one of the leading causes of heart failure worldwide – and one that is preventable through simple screenings.
Chagas disease, caused by the Chagas bugs found in Central America and some areas of the U.S., can lie dormant in victims for decades, then manifest itself with devastating consequences.
For the past eight years, Providence Health & Services has teamed with the Center of Excellence for Chagas Disease at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar to screen for Chagas. UCLA cardiologist Sheba Meymandi, M.D., program director, believes all migrants from Central America, from infants to age 60, should be screened for the disease, which is curable in its early stages.
“Complications of Chagas are horrific,” Dr. Meymandi said. “We have a lot of patients who need heart transplants. But if you catch them before complications, you either cure them or slow the progression.”
Eight years ago, Providence adopted the prevention program as a community outreach project, providing volunteers who screen patients. Last month, Providence, contributed $20,000 to the program for outreach in the community as part of its ongoing financial support. A recent screening coordinated by Providence volunteers resulted in blood samples from 100 people.
The disease is caused by the Chagas bug, which bites humans then defecates. Scratching the bite can result in the feces entering the bloodstream, causing a disease victims unknowingly carry for decades. The human and financial costs are enormous. But the sooner you discover the disease, the better the chance of cure, or medication to prevent its escalation.
The parasite exists in our country, but living conditions and the likelihood the species behaves differently result in fewer cases of Chagas disease.