A little-known parasitic disease from Latin America costs the US economy $900 million a year, the New York Times reports, even though you've probably never heard of Chagas disease. To put the figure in perspective, the much more publicized Lyme disease costs the US about $2.5 billion, a study reported. And worldwide, Chagas costs some $7 billion—more than cervical cancer or cholera. Chagas, spread by bites from the bloodsucking "kissing bug," is widespread from Mexico south to Argentina, and the bugs have appeared in the southern US. As NPR notes, about 300,000 Americans carry the bug; most are Texans.
Some 10 million people across the globe may have the disease, including some Latin American emigrants to the US, Canada, and Spain, among other European countries. Costs in the study were associated with the health care involved and the number of lost healthy years. Researchers hope that emphasizing the economic impact of Chagas will encourage more work on vaccines. (In other unusual health news, a mystery brain disease is striking US women.)