In Pará, Brazil, there has been a cluster of Chagas disease cases that officials believe may be related to the consumption of tainted acai berries. This could be as a result of carelessness in the conditions ideal for the preparation of the product. The disease is typically contacted by consuming food of beverages contaminated by infected triatomine bugs, also known as ‘kissing’ bugs. Illness typically develops by one week after exposure and can last for up to 60 days. Although most infected people never develop symptoms, they remain infected throughout their lives and around 20-30 per cent of patients will develop chronic manifestations of Chagas disease after a prolonged period without any clinical disease; usually affecting the heart.
To date, 18 people have been sickened and one death has been caused by the outbreak. Travellers who sleep indoors or in air-conditioned or screened hotel rooms are at low risk for exposure to infected kissing bugs as they tend to infect poor quality dwellings and are mainly active at night. However, the disease has become more common and can be transmitted through food and freshly pressed juice contaminated with the faeces of insects attracted to ripening fruit.
A recent American Heart Association scientific statement warned of Chagas disease, stating that during the past 40 years, the disease has spread to areas whether it has not traditionally been seen, including the US. The statement aims to summarise the most up-to-date information on diagnosis, screening, and treatment of triatomine infection. “This statement aims to increase global awareness among physicians who manage patients with Chagas disease outside of traditionally endemic environments,” said Dr Maria Carmo Pereira Nunes, Co-Chair of the committee that produced the statement. “This document will help healthcare providers and health systems outside of Latin America recognise, diagnose and treat Chagas disease and prevent further disease transmission.” The statement can be viewed here.