New treatment brings hope to those bitten by the ‘kissing bug’ – The Telegraph

0
1
New treatment brings hope to those bitten by the ‘kissing bug’ – The Telegraph

Patients suffering from Chagas disease, a debilitating and potentially fatal insect-borne illness, could be cured with a two-week course of drugs instead of the current 60-day regimen, a study has shown.

The research, led by the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), found that a shorter course of benznidazole, the drug most commonly used to treat Chagas, was just as effective as the longer treatment course and caused fewer side effects.

Some 80 per cent of patients were found to be clear of the disease a year later on both regimens.

Chagas disease, which is typically found in Latin America and affects the poorest communities, is spread through the bite of the triatomine bug, a bloodsucking insect which carries a parasite in its faeces.

The insect is known as the “kissing bug” due to its penchant for biting its victims on the face while they sleep, before defecating near the bite.

When someone rubs or scratches the bite the infected faeces enters the body through the wound, the eyes or the mouth.

Although benznidazole is effective, 20 per cent of patients do not stick to the treatment because of side effects which can include skin rashes, fever, vomiting and problems sleeping.  

“The current treatment can cause severe side effects, which has often discouraged some people from seeking treatment and healthcare workers from recommending it,” said Dr Joaquim Gascon, director of the Chagas initiative at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), and one of the lead researchers.

“In this study we’ve shown, however, that shorter doses of benznidazole have the same positive results,” he said.  

Most people with Chagas are infected in childhood but since it usually causes few symptoms many people are unaware they have the disease.

But 30 to 40 per cent of people go on to show symptoms years or even decades later, most often cardiac damage as the parasites hide in the heart of the host. This can lead to sudden death or progressive heart failure.  

For the study, researchers compared six benznidazole-based treatment regimens of varying lengths and dosages on Chagas sufferers in rural Bolivia.

John Kelly, professor of molecular biology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who was not involved in the research, said the results of the pilot study were encouraging.

“One of the biggest drawbacks of the current treatment regime is the toxicity associated with benznidazole. It’s a long treatment period and it’s been a real downer getting patients to comply,” he said.

“This new research shows that it should be feasible to reduce the treatment.”

The success of treatments in preventing some of the disease’s most debilitating effects is also down to early diagnosis, according to Dr Sergio Sosa Estani, head of the Chagas programme at DNDi.

“It’s very important to try to diagnose and start treatment as soon as possible. Starting treatment before symptoms appear helps avoid progression of the disease,” he said.

Once confined to rural Latin America, international travel and migration has meant that Chagas disease is increasingly a global health issue.

In Europe 120,000 people – mostly Latin American migrants living in Spain – are thought to be infected. An earlier study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and ISGlobal showed that at least 1,200 people in London could carry the disease.

Outside the kissing bug’s natural home Latin America, the disease is spread through blood transfusions, organ transplants or between pregnant women and their babies.

“Its impact as a new and emerging disease in these countries is important,” said Dr Gascon. “Our health systems need to be prepared for this kind of transmission.”

Protect yourself and your family by learning more about Global Health Security 

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here