A new study about Chagas Disease has labeled the disease as “the new AIDS of the Americas,” sparking concern from my sister about my health while living in Paraguay as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Initially concerned, I did some research and found that the disease is nothing new, having been discovered in 1909.
“New AIDS!!!” More like media hype.
According to the Peace Corps, no volunteer has ever contracted Chagas Disease (using the safety measures taught to them…I wonder if that means there are some who did get the disease, but did so because they didn’t follow instructions…hmmm.)
I wondered what other types of health concerns I might be facing, so I checked the Peace Corps website. From the Paraguay Welcome Book:
The most common illnesses that plague both Paraguayans and Volunteers are also found in the United States: colds, bronchitis, diarrhea, constipation, sinus infections, skin infections, headaches, dental problems, minor injuries, STDs, emotional problems, and alcohol abuse. These problems may be more acute in Paraguay because certain environmental factors increase the risk or aggravate the severity of some illnesses and injuries. For instance, problems associated with cultural adaptation may exacerbate emotional problems or contribute to alcohol abuse. However, the most common ailments, which are easily preventable, such as diarrhea and giardiasis (caused by a common parasite) are either water- or food-borne. Hepatitis is much rarer, but it can also be transmitted by polluted water or poorly prepared food.
Paraguay is fortunate to be free of many of the diseases endemic to tropical areas, such as amebiasis, Guinea worm, and typhoid fever. However, there are seasonal outbreaks of dengue fever, which is transmitted by mosquitoes. Yellow fever is uncommon; however, there was an outbreak recently. Chagas disease is found in Paraguay, but no Volunteer using the safety measures taught has ever contracted it. Malaria is rare and limited to a small part of the country. Therefore, Volunteers do not need to take malaria medication, but Volunteers traveling outside of the country may be exposed to malaria or other diseases not normally encountered in Paraguay. Volunteers are issued mosquito repellent and mosquito nets, which can be effective in the prevention of mosquito-borne diseases.