An insect-borne disease many people have never heard of is quickly becoming the "new AIDS of the Americas," researchers warn. Chagas disease, caused by parasites carried by blood-sucking insects, infects up to 8 million people in the Americas. Many carriers never show symptoms but close to a quarter eventually develop potentially fatal enlarged hearts or intestines. Most sufferers live in Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, and Bolivia, but there are some 300,000 in the US, many of them immigrants, the New York Times reports. The number of cases in European countries, now home to many Latin American immigrants, is also on the rise.
The spread of the disease, which can be also transmitted by blood transfusions, resembles the early spread of HIV/AIDS, according to experts writing in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. Like AIDS, Chagas—also known as American trypanosomiasis—has a long incubation time, and is hard or impossible to cure, the experts warn, noting that because it is a "disease of the poor," little money is spent on prevention or finding new treatments. The disease is believed to have killed Charles Darwin decades after he was bitten by a bug in South America. (Read more Chagas disease stories.)