Misconceptions and Limited Awareness of Chagas Disease in Texas Among Surveyed Houston Physicians
Tan, Melody T.
Matthews, Kirstin R.W.
Chagas disease impacts approximately 6–7 million people worldwide. It is caused by the Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi) parasite that is transmitted by the triatomine bug. In Texas, cases of T. cruzi infection have been documented as early as the 1930s. More recently, evidence of autochthonous transmission and infection in human and canine populations has led experts to believe that the disease is prevalent in the region. The disease progresses from an acute phase—which has symptoms that are difficult to diagnose or can be asymptomatic—to a chronic disease, with significant cardiac and esophageal complications that can result in death. Currently, Chagas is only treatable in the acute phase or early chronic phase, which makes prompt diagnosis important. In this exploratory study, 16 emergency room physicians, pediatricians, and general practitioners in the Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas, were interviewed to gauge their awareness of Chagas disease in Texas and assess their knowledge of the symptoms, transmission, and prevention of the disease. Responses indicated that the physicians interviewed were unaware of the specifics and the local burden of Chagas disease. Those who were able to provide details about the vector (triatomine bug) or pathogen (T. cruzi) made associations with only a few aspects of the disease, such as the chronic symptom of cardiomyopathy or the fact that triatomine bugs hide in thatched roofs. The physicians did not recognize that Chagas can be found and locally transmitted in Texas. Based upon these preliminary findings, there may be a similar lack of awareness of the disease within the greater population of Houston-based physicians. These findings suggest a need for increased physicians’ education and awareness of Chagas—particularly in regions like Texas, where the triatomine bug and T. cruzi are present—in order to improve accurate diagnosis and timely treatment of patients.
An exploratory study of Houston physicians revealed a general lack of awareness about the presence of Chagas disease in Texas. The results suggest the need to better educate health professionals on the diagnosis and timely treatment of Chagas patients in the region.