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The parasitic infection is transmitted to humans by blood-sucking insects that include "kissing bugs."
A parasitic infection called Chagas disease may be "the new AIDS of the Americas," according to a report published in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
The editorial, co-authored by several experts in tropical diseases from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, likens some aspects of the disease to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS and warns of a possible pandemic.
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Chagas disease has been largely contained to Latin America, but is spreading into the US due to increased travel and immigration, The New York Times reported.
As many as 8 million people are infected in the Western Hemisphere, mainly in Bolivia, Mexico, Colombia and Central America, as well as some 30,000 people in the US, according to the Times.
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Chagas is transmitted from the bite of blood-sucking insects, including "kissing bugs," that release a parasite into the victim’s bloodstream. The parasite can eventually make its way to the heart, where it can live and multiply, staying dormant for years before emerging as heart arrhythmias and heart failure, the New York Daily News reported.
The disease can also spread from mother to child and through blood transfusions, although US blood banks have screened for it since 2007, The Huffington Post reported.
About a quarter of victims develop enlarged heart or intestines that can lead to sudden death if they burst, according to the National Institutes of Health.
According to Nature magazine, some believe the disease may have killed Charles Darwin in the 19th century.