A nighttime “kiss” from a bug that casts a curse on its recipient in the form of a lifelong, and possibly fatal, illness. No, this isn’t some half-remembered fairy tale. It’s the true story of Chagas disease, caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi and transmitted by many species of triatomines (aka kissing bugs). In this episode, we take you through the utterly complicated biology of Chagas disease in its acute and chronic forms, the surprising evolutionary and historical background of this parasite and the scientist for whom it’s named, and finally the grim reality that is the global status of Chagas disease today.
The dizzying ecological complexity and pathophysiological mystery of this disease makes it a challenge to study, and the lack of funding only compounds the issue; Chagas disease bears the dubious distinction of the most neglected of all the neglected tropical diseases. In spite of this, many people are dedicated to easing the global burden of Chagas disease, and we were delighted to interview two of these Chagas champions for this episode. Daisy Hernandez, Associate Professor at Miami University, joins us to discuss the inspiration for her recent book The Kissing Bug: A True Story of a Family, an Insect, and a Nation’s Neglect of a Deadly Disease, and Dr. Sarah Hamer, Associate Professor at Texas A&M University, delves into the ecological aspects of this disease and shares the incredible community science program that raises awareness about T. cruzi and the bugs that transmit it.