Health and Architecture: Eliminating Chagas Disease

A home should provide shelter and safety from a hostile world. But that is not possible for the many Hondurans, whose homes are infested with the 'kissing bug' that carries the Chagas disease. This disease is especially prevalent among the poor of Central and South America.

Spraying for Chinches
The 'kissing bug' (also called 'chinche' or 'triatomine bug' ) hides in the cracks of adobe houses, coming out at night to feed on the blood of animals and people. The insect feces, which are dropped after feeding, are then rubbed into the blood system, when the victim unwittingly scratches himself. He or she thus becomes infected with Trypanosoma Cruzi parasite, which causes Chagas disease.

In the initial phase of the disease, or the acute phase, a person may show symptoms, such as severe swelling at the bite location. The symptoms usually go away. However, if patient is untreated, the disease advances to the more serious chronic phase.

For years the patient may be asymptomatic. However, in the final chronic phase, which may occur decades later, the T. Cruzi parasite attacks the heart, leading to cardiac failure; or it may seriously damage the digestive system. The disease, at this stage, can be fatal.

The  'Kissing Bug' or 'Chinches'
the Insect Vector
for Chagas Disease
In Honduras, it is estimated that 7% of the population is infected. 20% of all cardiapathies are chagasic and 36% of all pace makers are placed in chagasic cardiapaths.

The elimination of Chagas disease is more effectively accomplished with architectural solutions than medical. While medical treatment can help the patient in the initial acute phase, it is almost non-existent in the final chronic phase. However, quality new housing and basic home renovations can eliminate the presence of the insect, and, in the process, the Chagas disease.

Existing infected housing is typically sprayed by professionals with pyrethroid insecticides. Any crevices in the walls are plastered over. Thatched roofs are replaced with a steel roof systems. Insect screens are placed in windows and doors to prevent the bugs from re-entering the house.

New houses are built to prevent insect infiltration.

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