A Chagas disease vaccine may be possible after a study identified how the disease evades the immune system. Chagas disease is a potentially life-threatening illness caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi). It is primarily found in Latin American but affects over eight million people worldwide. Chagas disease is primarily transmitted to humans through contact with feces of triatomine bugs – “kissing bug.”
New research from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health I collaboration with the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine found a molecule in T. cruzi which may reveal how the disease invades the immune system.
Senior author, Eric L. Brown, said, “In this paper, we describe a protein, Tc24, that T. cruzi likely uses to hide from the immune system, allowing it to persist for decades undetected until it is too late. Thirty percent of infected individuals develop chronic Chagas disease that can result in cardiomyopathy that is untreatable.”
“If we could modify the molecule, we could mount an immune response that would prevent that organism from disseminating and causing infection. This could help both people and canines who are infected with Chagas disease or are at-risk for infection,” added Brown.
There is currently no vaccine for Chagas disease but there are a couple of medications available but they have not been FDA approved yet.
Moving research forward Brown suggests they will modify the molecule and conduct pre-clinical trials.
Chagas disease symptoms
Chagas disease symptoms can be acute – lasting for a short period of time – or chronic – occurs for 10 to 20 years. Acute phase symptoms of Chagas disease include:
- Swelling of the infection site
- Body aches
- Eyelid swelling
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting
- Swollen glands
- Enlargement of liver or spleen
Chronic Chagas disease symptoms are:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Congestive heart failure
- Sudden cardiac arrest
- Difficulty swallowing because the esophagus swells and becomes enlarged
- Abdominal pain and constipation due to the colon becoming enlarged
Chagas disease treatment
As mentioned there is currently no vaccine or cure for Chagas disease. Treatment of Chagas disease focuses on killing the parasite and managing symptoms. During the acute phase medications can be administered but once Chagas disease reaches the chronic phase the disease can no longer be cured. If medications are given to individuals under the age of 50 during the chronic phase it may help slow down the disease progression.
Additional treatment may revolve around heart-related complications and digestive-related complications.