Advances in Anthropology
2013. Vol.3, No.4A, 1-6
Published Online November 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access 1
Impact of Chagas Disease on Human Evolution:
The Challenges Continue
Elaine Cristina Navarro1,2, Paulo Câmara Marques Pereira1
1Tropical Diseases Department, Botucatu School of Me dicin e, São Paulo State University—UNESP,
Botucatu, Brazil
2School Eduvale de Avaré, Avaré, Brazil
Email: navarro@fc.unesp. br
Received June 27th, 2013; revised July 29th, 2013 ; ac cept ed Augu st 2 7 th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Elaine Cristina Navarro, Paulo Câmara Marques Pereira. This is an open access article dis-
tributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and re-
production in any medium, provi d e d the original work is proper l y cited.
Chagas disease affects 8 to 10 million people worldwide and, although most of them live in Latin Amer-
ica, there has been an increase in cases occurring in countries of Europe and North America although
most of them live in Latin America. This study aims to describe the epidemiological situation in the pre-
sent as well as government and research centers actions, particularly the study group of Chagas disease of
the School of Medicine of Botucatu (FMB/UNESP)/Brazil.
Keywords: Congenital Transmission; Epidemiology; Vector Control; Chagas Disease
Chagas disease (CD), also known as American trypanosome-
asis, was discovered over 100 years ago (1909) and still affects
thousands of people in the world, particularly in America.
CD is considered by some authors as the most neglected dis-
eases and it happens for many reasons, but two of them stand
out: 1) most of the carriers present the indeterminate way (no
symptoms) and spend most of their lives without knowing their
condition and without medical monitoring; and 2) these people
are socially and financially disadvantaged and, thus, there’s no
commercial interest in researching and producing new medica-
The goal of this study is to describe the epidemiological
situation of this diseas e in Br azil nowadays, which affects about
10 million people throughout the world, in what concerns to the
measures taken by public authorities and in researches made in
the country, particularly at the Medicine College of Botucatu
The Natural History of the Parasite
The etiologic agent of the disease is Trypanosoma cruzi, a
flagellate protozoan of the order Kinetoplastida, which is char-
acterized by the presence of a Circular Extranuclear DNA that
corresponds to mitochondrial DNA (Araújo et al., 2009; Rey,
It was initially believed that trypanosomides were mono-
genetic parasites of insects which didn’t suck blood, but during
the evolution process these ones identified some animals as a
new food source and started to suck blood. Trypanosomes suf-
fered morphological and functional changes to survive, as the
development of the undulating membrane and the scourge al-
lowed the circulation in the blood of the host (Coura & Borges-
Pereira, 2011).
According to Coura (2007), the most accepted hypothesis
about the natural history of the disease can be divided in four
phases: 1) enzooty—infection among wild animals, and it per-
sists until now in some locations as the Amazon; 2) anthropo-
zoonosis—transmission among humans and animals in eco-
topes; 3) zoonosis—among animals and humans with domestic-
cated vectors; 4) zooanthroponosis—transmission among old
endemic areas.
In a study made by Aufderheide et al. (2004) with 283 mum-
mies located among the coastal area of South America, Ata-
cama Desert in Southern Peru and the Northern Chile found the
existence of 9000-year-old mummies. In this study it was also
proved that 40.6% were seropositive for Trypanosoma cruzi. At
the “Abrigo do Malhador” archeological site, in Minas Gerais,
Brazil, some molecular tests were made in mummies of adult
560 ± 40 year-old men (Carbon-14 dating) which presented
megacolon and Trypanosoma cruzi I in a period that precedes
the European colonization (Fernandes et al., 2008).
Until the 1980’s, the strains of T. cruzi were subdivided in
three groups (zymodemes): I, II and Z3. I and Z3 (III) were
considered wild and II was considered domestic. With the ad-
vances in molecular biology techniques, nowadays we can say
that the parasite presents a big genetic diversity and, thus, can
be classified in six groups determined DTU (Discrete Typing
Unit) that have immunological and molecular markers in com-
mon. The strains I (wild) and II (domestic) are pure and from
III to IV are hybrids (Rassi Jr., Rassi, & Marin-Neto, 2010;
Zingales, 2011).
In the last 300 years, the human invasion in wild environ-
ment, deforestation and cattle breeding have favored the set-
tlement of domestic and peridomestic cycle (COURA, 2007).
The studies mentioned above corroborate the theories that the T.
cruzi evolved along with the men.
The Discovery of the Disease
In 1907, Dr. Carlos Ribeiro Justiniano Chagas was desig-
nated by Dr. Oswaldo Gonçalves Cruz, by that time president
of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute (Rio), to control the Malaria en-
demic among people who worked in the construction of the
“Estrada de Ferro Central do Brasil” Railway in Minas Gerais
(MG). In this occasion, Carlos Chagas settled in the city of
Lassance, where he utilized a wagon train as his house, office
and laboratory (Goldbaum & Barreto, 2008; Chagas, 2008).
In 1908, in one of his researches, he identified a species of
trypanosome in a Callithrix penicillata, which received the de-
nomination of Trypanosomominasese. In the same year, ad-
vised by the head of the commission of engineers of the rail-
way, Cornélio Mota, he started intestinal analysis in triatomines
(Panstrongylus megistus) that infested the workers’ housing. In
this insect he identified a new species of trypanosome, in which
he observed the amastigote form and sent some examples to
Oswald Cruz in Rio to confirm his discovery. When it was
confirmed, Carlos Chagas honored Oswaldo Cruz, naming the
new species Trypanosoma cruzi (Coura, 1997).
Carlos Chagas continued his studies about the new species in
Lassance and, in 1909, identified the protozoan in a 2-year-old
child, Berenice, who presented the acute form of the disease
(Moncayo, 2009).
The discoveries of Carlos Chagas made him the only re-
searcher to identify the etiological agent, the mechanisms of
transmission and the clinical characteristics. The repercussion
of this triad made the National Academy of Medicine send five
members to the city of Lassance t o check “in loco” this discov-
ery and, in this occasion, Miguel Couto, member of the com-
mission, purposed to name the etymology “Chagas disease”
(Coura, 1997).
The discovery of this pathology had great world repercussion
and, in 1912, Carlos Chagas had his act recognized by the In-
stitute for Tropical Medicine of Hamburg (Germany), which
granted him the Schaudinn prize for the best work in protozo-
ology, a prize which, by that time, had been given to only other
three researchers. After the international acknowledgement of
this pathology importance, the federal government released
special funds for the construction of a hospital in Lassance,
making the clinical studies of the disease possible, as well as
the other biological aspects (Schapachnik et al., 2009; Kropf,
Carlos Chagas received many other titles and honors, among
these the Artium Magistrum, Honorary Degree by the Harvard
University (1921); Doctor Honorary Degree by the University
of Paris (1926); University of Lima (1929) and the Free Uni-
versity of Brussels (1934). Despite his unique achievement in
the history of the World Medicine and being indicated twice to
the Nobel Prize of Medicine (1911, 1920), the Brazilian doctor
never received that title.
Other researchers continued the studies about American try-
panosomiasis in various strands: Brumpt (xenodiagnosis);
Guerreira & Machado (Fixation of Complement Reaction);
Viana and Margarino Torres (acute form); EvandroChagas
(electrocardiographic diagnosis); Freitas (transmission through
blood donation); Nussenzweig (Trypanosoma action of gentian
violet); Rassi, Andrade and Prata (Chagas heart disease);
Rezende (digestive form); Coura (treatment); Strout (concen-
tration of hemoflagellates in the blood) and others (Coura,
Mechanisms of Transmission
There are many ways to transmit the disease: through vector,
transfusion, congenital, oral, transplant of solid organs or bone
marrow, anal glands of marsupials, laboratory accidents and
through sex, but the first four are the most important ones (Dia,
Neto, & Luna, 2011).
Chagas Disease is endemic in Latin American countries, with
a strong focus in rural zones where the population has low pur-
chasing power and the houses provide favorable conditions for
the triatomine (vector) to install and reproduce. The Brazilian
government started campaigns for vector control in the 1950’s
in some areas of the country and in the 1980’s there were con-
trol programs in all the national territory (Petherick, 2010).
Brazil was certificated, in 2006, by the Pan American Health
Organization (PAHO), as an area free from the vector transmis-
sion of triatomine Triatoma infestans, main vector of the coun-
try, which doesn’t mean the compete interruption of the vector
transmission, but an effective control (Fitarelli & Horn, 2009).
Despite the control of Triatoma infestans, there’s a possibil-
ity of an ecological succession and, thus, other species of tria-
tomines could transmit Chagas disease. According to that, the
study group of the Medicine College of Botucatu (SP) has been
developing a great multicenter epidemiological project in a his-
torically endemic area for an analysis in loco with the intention
of checking pets which could be hosts for the parasite. In the
last decade, Lucheis et al. (2005) evaluated 50 dogs in different
cities in the region of Botucatu through artificial xenodiagnosis,
blood culture and PCR and find that 50% presented fragment of
the parasite kDNA.
After the interruption of the vector transmission, the blood
transfusions became the main concern of Brazilian authorities
regarding to the disease control and, thus, a strict legislation
was elaborated, which prohibited the remuneration to the do-
nors and implanted the mandatory serological screening in all
Blood Banks (Dias, 2006).
Another important measurement determined by Brazilian
authorities was the compulsoriness of serological test of high
sensibility and, thus, even if the parasite load is too low, it will
be detected. The main inconvenient of these tests would be the
occurrence of cross reaction (false positive), but the kits used
have been presenting a growing efficiency. The authors of this
study performed, at the Blood center of Botucatu (FMB/
UNESP), a lifting of non-negative serological reactions for
Chagas Disease (positive and inconclusive) between the years
2003 and 2010 and the average of inconclusive negative reac-
tions was below 35% (Navarro et al., 2013a). Another study
made in the same work evaluated the inconclusive serological
reactions through different methods (ELISA, HAI, IFI and im-
munoblotting TESA-cruzi) and concluded that TESA-cruzi is
the best method to confirm the positive serology of individuals
that present over two inconclusive reactions (Picka et al., 2007).
Another kind of contamination obtained more attention in the
last decade, the oral transmission. Until 2004, there were few
reports in literature about foods and drinks potentially danger-
ous to health related to Chagas Disease, but after the outbreak
in the state of Santa Catarina in 2005, new outbreaks were reg-
istered, mainly in the northern region of the country, where
people often consume Açai in natura. Only in the state of Pará
the oral transmission was responsible for 178 cases of Chagas
disease in the acute form, in 2006. Brazilian authorities insti-
tuted standards of good ways of production and compulsoriness
Open Access
of pasteurization of drinks and foods related to the oral trans-
mission of Chagas Disease (Nobrega et al., 2009).
In the last two decades, the congenital transmission has been
receiving a special attention in several non-endemic countries
for Chagas Disease. Due to the migration of women from Latin
America to European countries and to North America, some
countries established the compulsoriness of serology to Chagas
Disease in pregnant women from Latin American countries.
The screening is not standardized in the different countries and,
in Brazil, there are few studies of Chagas Disease in pregnant
women and the confirmatory serology is not a part of the pre-
natal routine, not even in historically endemic areas.
In a study which was made in seven hospitals of Madrid,
Spain, with 3839 pregnant Latin women, we could see the
prevalence of 3.96% of serum reagent women for Chagas Dis-
ease and the rate of congenital transmission was 2.6%, showing
the impact of this kind of transmission of the disease (Flores-
Chavez et al., 2011). Romero et al. (2011) found that the preva-
lence of women in fertile age in the rural population of Bolivia
who host T. cruzi is bigger than 60% and the rate of congenital
transmission reaches 4%.
According to Bern & Montgomery (2009), the control of
congenital transmission represents the main kind of prevention
of Chagas Disease in countries where there are no vector in-
For Rissio et al. (2010), the control of congenital transmis-
sion should be settled as a priority of public health, because it
has been put in evidence as one of the main kinds of transmis-
sion that we have these days and it could transmit the disease to
all the world.
Some Latin country’s already instituted prenatal screening
for CD, like Paraguay, Uruguay, some places in Argentina. In
Brazil, the screening of pregnant is not a part of the national
program, but exist the entity (APAE) Association of Parents of
Exceptional Children, that makes this process in Mato Grosso
do Sul state and Goiás (Dias et al., 2011).
In Brazil, the control of the congenital transmissions is still
initial, but some research groups are already organizing them-
selves in several places of the country, particularly the present
authors of the study of the Medicine College of Botucatu.
Clinical Forms
The acute form of the CD is usually asymptomatic, but when
symptomatic it can present prolonged fever, malaise, increasing
liver and/or spleen, swollen lymph nodes, localized or general-
ized subcutaneous edema, signals of the input port of the para-
site (Romanã signal or inoculation of Chagoma) and, rarely,
cardiac alterations (Rassi Jr., Rassi, & Marin-Neto, 2010).
The chronic form of the disease can follow distinct courses:
around 60% of the parasitized individuals present the undeter-
mined form (asymptomatic); 20% to 40% develop the cardiac
form and or digestive (Sathler-Avelar et al., 2009).
In researches made by Geraix et al. (2007) at the Hospital of
Clinics in Botucatu was observed that more than 70% of the
patients presented the undetermined form, followed by the di-
gestive, cardiac a n d mixe d.
As Lescure et al. (2010), the cardiac form of the disease
leads to abnormality in the conduction system and the more
common manifestations are the palpitations, arrhythmias and
several degrees of cardiac blockages. The digestive form is re-
sponsible for the development of the syndrome of “enlarge-
ment” of the esophagus (dysphasia, chest pain and regurgitation)
and colon (chronic constipation, abdominal pain and obstruc-
There is little information about the transition in the chronic
form, but some studies indicate that the adipose tissue in an
endocrine organ is capable of producing several pro and anti-
inflammatory cytokines, acting both as the control of para-
sitemia as in the tissue damage (Nagajyothi et al., 2012).
The increase of the body fat is particularly important to the
carriers of the undetermined form of CD, because several stud-
ies indicate that the adipose tissue also works as a reservoir for
the Trypanosome cruzi, being the responsible for the increase of
the parasite load, increase of the macrophage, and the mainte-
nance of a low degree of persistent chronic inflammation like
the ones founded in morbidly obsess. Some authors also report
that it’s an imbalance in the process of regulation between the
pro and anti-inflammatory cytokines, increasing the chances of
tissue damage for the person (Combs et al., 2005; Nagajyothi et
al., 2009; Ferreira et al., 2011; Tanowitz et al., 2011; Naga-
jyothi et al., 2012).
At the Ambulatory of Nutrition in Tropical Diseases at Hos-
pital of Clinics of Medicine College in Botucatu were evaluated
74 individuals carriers of the intermediate form of CD and it
was observed that 90% presented increasing of the body fat,
particularly at the abdominal region, indicating higher risk of
the development of the cardiovascular disease (Navarro et al.,
Epidemiological Situation
According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)
CD is present in 21 countries of the Americas and affects 8 to
10 million people in the world. The annual incidence is 41
thousand of new cases and the population exposed to danger
areas reaches 100 million. In the year of 2008, 12 thousand
people died, as victims of CD (Soares, 2009; PAHO, 2012).
According to Petherick (2010) in Brazil there are, at least, 3
million infected and, the country has the most part of the people
with the chronic CD present and the undetermined form of the
disease (with no symptoms), there is a possibility of this num-
ber being even bigger.
The control of the vector transmission of CD began in 1943
with the creation of the “Center of Studies and Prophylaxis of
the Chagas Disease” of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation. The
main action of this program was to control the vectors known
as “barbers” by applying insecticide, in particular at gammex-
ane, P 530. In 1970 the control of the disease became responsi-
bility of the Supervision of Public Health Campaigns (SUCAM)
and, in 1991 the National Foundation of Health (FUNASA)
took the control of all the endemic diseases. At the same time,
the countries of South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uru-
guay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru) that concentrated two-thirds
of the carriers of the disease in the Americas began a program
of international cooperation, the “Initiative of the Southern
Cone”, which aimed the control the vector transmission and
transfusion. The impact of this initiative was crucial for the
control of vector transmission of the disease, and, in 1997
Uruguay received the certification of free area of vector trans-
mission, followed by Chile (1999) and Brazil (2006). Another
goal achieved was the mandatory of the screening serological in
blood banks at Argentina (100% of the public banks and 80%
of the private), Brazil, Chile and Uruguay (100%). Paraguay,
Open Access 3
Bolivia and Peru still fight against the disease, but they couldn’t
achieve the programmed target (Moncayo & Silveira, 2009;
Silveira & Junior, 2011).
Several studies were performed by the Brazilian researches
to ascertain the effectiveness of the vector control performed by
the public authorities. Carvalho et al. (2011) performed epide-
miological studies between 1976 and 1980 with more than 31
thousand people in the micro regions of Campos de Itapetininga
and at Mantiquera Paulista Western Slope which was observed
that the most part of the carriers of the parasite were over 40
years old, but 45% of the carriers were younger than 20 years
old and more than 15% of the women were in a fertile age,
signaling the possibility of the congenital transmission.
Another study about the seroprevalence of the CD were per-
formed by Ostermayer et al. (2011) with a representative sam-
ple of the population aged up to 5 years old (104.945 children)
of all the Brazilian rural area (except Rio de Janeiro) found just
32 positives (0.03%) and from these, 20 (0.02%) possibly had
the congenital transmission (mother with a positive serology)
and 11 (0.01%) indicated possible vector transmission (9 chil-
dren from the northeast area, 1 from the Amazonia and 1 from
Paraná). At the same study, we observed that 60% of the chil-
dren that acquired the parasite from the mother lived in Rio
Grande do Sul.
The transmissions control measures of the disease are also
monitored through epidemiological surveys at blood banks. In
study performed by Navarro et al. (2013a) at the Hemocenter of
Botucatu, town inside of the State of São Paulo, the prevalence
of no negative reactions (positives and inconclusive) was of
0.5%, which is the biggest national average (0.2%)-(Moraes-
Souza & Ferreira-Silva, 2011).
In the semi arid zone of the state of Rio Grande do Norte
(Brazil) were evaluated 1950 blood samples at the macro west
region and more than 390 in Caicó and was observed that the
infection persists high at the macro west region, but it’s declin-
ing in Caicó (Brito et al., 2012).
Some European countries are also feeling the impact of the
CD. Spain, country that receives the higher contingent of Latin
immigrants, especially from Bolivia (162.095) and that signaled
to the local authorities the need of serological screening in
Latin people and pregnant Latin women (Navarro et al., 2012).
In a study performed by Flores-Chaves et al. (2011) in Ma-
drid, Spain, were made serological tests in 3839 pregnant
women in seven different hospitals, in which 3.96% presented
positive serology for CD. In the same study were evaluated the
newborns of these women and the rate of transmission was
2.6%. When the evaluation was performed according to the
origin country was identified that 95.4% were Bolivian women.
Whereas the vector control in several countries of Latin
America and in Europe, there are no records that this kind of
transmission should be considered the impact of congenial
transmission in the maintenance of the disease in several coun-
tries and establish protocols of strict control, preventing the
maintenance of new disease reservoir.
Future Prospects
The authorities of public health in Latin America made many
efforts in order to control the several forms of transmission of
Chagas disease (CD), but there are still many goals to be ac-
complished for the effectiveness in the elimination of parasites
in humans.
Among these goals there are two crucial methods for the con-
trol of the disease: permanent surveillance in historically en-
demic areas so far about the invasion of domestic and per do-
mestic areas of secondary species that can transmit the parasite
and the control of congenital transmission.
The Initiative of the Southern Cone favored the effective
control of the disease in some countries, but there are still goals
that weren’t achieved, as the serological screening in every
blood donation and the control of the congenital transmission,
thus, there is the necessity of a meeting of efforts among Latin
countries with the goal of eliminate the circulation of these
parasite between human hosts and their pets, which are also
reservoir for the disease.
The preventive diagnoses of the congenital transmission have
big impact on the public health, the available medications today
have great efficiency in the acute form of the disease, prevent-
ing the cycle of the parasite continues.
Another important step related to this pathology is the de-
velopment of new drugs. Currently there are two drugs mar-
keted that act effectively in the acute phase (Benzonidazol &
Nifurtimox), but the same effect is not proportionate in the
chronic stage. Moreover, the collateral damages of these drugs
are intense and responsible for the abandonment of many pa-
Until the year 2011, the medicines used in the treatment of
the CD were produced by the Pharmaceutical Laboratory of the
State of Pernambuco (LAFEPE/Brazil) supported by DNDi
(Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative) that, despite many
difficulties, produced medicines for the treatment of patients
around the world, but in 2012 the joint efforts of the Argentine
Health Ministry and the “Fundación Mundo Sano” allowed the
production of Benzonidazol in more than one laboratory. The
production is still little and not available to exportation, how-
One of the biggest conquests in the treatment of CD was the
development of dispersible tablets used in the pediatric treat-
ment of the CD as before, parents needed to fractionate the
medicine in twelve parts, favoring failures in the treatment due
to incorrect doses. The pediatric treatment is produced only in
Brazil is also the pioneer in the study of new drugs. Re-
searches of the Medicine College of Riberão Preto (FMRP/
Brazil) are patenting a new drug used in combating CD. The
researchers associated Benzonidazol to nitric oxide that, in
addition to reducing the parasite load in mice, also increased
the quantity of survivals to 100%.
Another important step is to establish the understanding that
the pathology is the knowledge of immunological and meta-
bolic mechanisms of the carrier. Currently, there are no scien-
tific explanations to the conversion of the chronic undetermined
form (asymptomatic) to the chronic symptomatic form (cardiac,
digestive or mixed). The Medicine College of Botucatu (FMB/
Unesp) has several groups of researches in different areas of
knowledge for the study of CD. The authors of this study are
part of a study group in the Tropical Diseases Laboratory of
this institution. Immunologic, molecular and metabolic re-
searches were made.
Currently, one of these groups is trying to relate the lipid
profile and nutritional of the carriers of CD with pro inflamma-
tory cytokines and nitric oxide, already possessing preliminary
results that will be published soon.
Open Access
Thus it can be concluded that Brazil is ahead in controlling
this endemic disease in the country both as regards the meas-
ures taken by the public authorities as basic research and de-
velopment of new treatments, but the challenges continue.
We would like thank Nelson Montilhiade FariaNeto for lan-
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