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Chagas Disease in Costa Rica

January 10th, 2006

Never heard of it?

Me neither! However thanks to alert reader Julie Becker, I now know we have another nasty thing available in Costa Rica.

After doing a bit of research such as checking with the WHO and the CDC, and, of course, asking my wifey to check the CAJA hospitals and physicians here in Costa Rica, I found out that:

A. Chagas Disease does exist here, but

B. You’re going to have to live in some pretty nasty places to get it!

Your chances of catching Chagas disease are truly remote unless you’re into living adobe style.

Because it is pretty near impossible for the average person to get Chagas, I almost decided against adding it to RCR. In fact, unless you’re a Peace Corp volunteer or living with the indigenous people of CR, you’re pretty safe. Still, as I want our section on Disease in Costa Rica to be as complete as possible, I have added Chagas to the list of things that can be a downer while visiting or living here, including all, and probably more than you ever wanted to know about this disease.

So you travelers planning on switching your reservations from The Four Seasons to a some mud shack or adobe, better read about the whole thing in the section on diseases.

Those of you who prefer a somewhat higher standard of accommodations, well you can pretty much ignore this whole post.

2 Responses to “Chagas Disease in Costa Rica”

  1. kristi bennewitz on June 14, 2008 4:45 am

    I would like to post what I have learned and experienced regarding Chagas disease, because I believe that it is a greater threat than is imagined here in Costa Rica. By accident I ran across a picture of the “mal de chagas” insect on the internet last year, curious, I googled the insect and found out that according the WHO, Chagas disease is a greater threat to those living in Latin America than AIDS. It has the potential of affecting 1 million people. South American countries (it was discovered in Brazil almost 100 years ago) have taken a very active campaign against the insect that carries the disease (the disease is caused by a parasite living in the urine/feces of a blood sucking reuvinid insect) and the public is aware of how to attempt insect control. This is not the case in Central America however, even though the several species of insects that carry Chagas are absolutely endemic to areas of Costa Rica, especially the Central Valley where studies have been carried out for decades. It was supposed that it did not yet populate the area I live in, Northern Guanacaste, however I have found 5 of these insects in my NEW, 2 year old concrete house. I live in exactly the type of house that these insects are said not to populate. The first I found last year and became very alarmed, however all sources indicated that this insect does NOT live in a new concrete house so I considered it to be a one off. My boyfriend says that they find these insects out in the bush often, but we considered our house sufficiently built that we did not have to worry. I have in the last month found a few more insects (during the day which is odd, as they are active at night), and so yesterday we decided to call the Ministerio de Salud. We were quite surprised by the reaction of the woman who answered our call, she was very alarmed and our district is sending someone to fumigate all of the buildings on our property on Monday (we called on a Friday!). This is the quickest response I have ever experienced in Costa Rica, and I believe it indicates the severity of threat this insect represents. However I am surprised that there is still no national campaign to educate the public. I urge everyone to at least make themselves familiar with the appearance of the insect, and read a bit about its habits on the internet. There is a LOT of information regarding the disease, although not much of it is specific to Costa Rica. I have read two studies conducted decades ago, one in inland Guanacaste and one in Heredia which indicated that 30% of the inhabitants where this insect is endemic carry Chagas disease. The problem is that only about 1% of those affected show acute symptoms. 10 to 30 years later, those affected have the potential for serious heart or digestive system damage. These animals live in old wood piles, or thatched palm roofing, but as I have experienced they are not limited to these areas. I will post more after the Ministerio de Salud has come to inspect the property…

  2. Tim on June 14, 2008 8:21 am

    Thank you.

    This subject is covered in the main web site:
    http://www.therealcostarica.com/health_education_costa_rica/disease_costa_rica.html as well.