Three infectious diseases that you can find in Latin America

These are the three infectious diseases that you can find in Latin America and elsewhere.

Three infectious diseases that you can find in Latin America
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash

Diseases exist since humans inhabit the planet. With time, some disappeared or managed to be eradicated but others continue among us causing us ills. Diseases such as bubonic plague, measles, cholera, or smallpox transformed the world, and when they became epidemics they left destruction and social upheaval. But there are still very old infectious diseases, thousands of years old, that remain among us. There are the three infectious diseases that you can find in Latin America


Chagas disease is one of the autochthonous diseases of Latin America that was discovered by the Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas in 1909. It is caused by the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite that is transmitted by the bite of an infected insect known as a "bug" or "chinche gaucha". , "chinche besucona", "chupadora", "voladora", "barbeiros", "chipos".

Chagas is a typical disease of the American region. It has been discovered that mummies up to 9,000 years old had an enlarged heart and the DNA of the parasite was detected. Chagas disease, which affects the heart, can also spread through contaminated food, a blood transfusion, a donated organ, or from mother to child during pregnancy. Chagas disease can be fatal because it can cause heart disease, chronically affecting the heart.

And despite the passage of thousands of years, the disease is still present in Latin America. According to a 2016 PAHO report, Chagas causes an average death of 14,000 people per year and has a presence in 21 countries in Latin America. There are 30,000 new average cases a year and 70 million people are at risk of contracting it.

But while the disease affects a large number of people, cases decreased over the years. It is a disease that comes in a process of sustained and successful control. The vectorial transmission has been controlled, that is, transmitted by the insect, and by blood transfusion.


It is known as a "biblical disease" because it is so old that it is mentioned in the Gospels. Leprosy or Hansen's disease is a disease that affects the skin and nerves of the hands and feet in certain cases and is produced by the bacterium Mycobacterium Leprae. It greatly affects people living in conditions of poverty, in precarious housing, with low access to public services, and overcrowded conditions.

In the world, there are about 200,000 new cases every year and Latin America is not exempt. In the region, there are about 33,000 cases per year and the disease is present in 24 countries. The number of cases of leprosy showed a significant drop since in the 90s it was discovered that there is a combination of drugs that is very effective for treatment.

Leprosy is a disease of incubation and slow development that can take between 5 to 10 years to show symptoms, although it is not fatal. That is why it is very difficult to eradicate it. In the theory, it is possible to get to the point of eradicating it but in practice, it is more difficult because of the incubation period and because it would be necessary to improve all the living conditions of the population. It would take decades.


Tuberculosis is a disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a bacterium that almost always affects the lungs. It is curable and preventable, says the World Health Organization. Tuberculosis is transmitted from person to person through the air. When a patient with pulmonary tuberculosis coughs, sneezes or spits, he expels tubercle bacilli in the air. It is enough for a person to inhale a few bacilli to become infected.

Symptoms may include cough, fever, night sweats, and weight loss, and maybe mild for many months. Therefore, patients are slow to seek medical attention and transmit the bacteria to others. It is estimated that one-third of the world population has latent tuberculosis, meaning that these people are infected with the bacillus but (still) have not become ill or can transmit the infection.

In the Americas, as in the rest of the world, tuberculosis has been present for centuries. It is described since the time of the Egyptians, some 3,000 years before Christ or more. In the Americas, about 282,000 new cases and relapses in 2017, representing 3% of the global burden of tuberculosis (10 million cases), and an incidence rate of 28 per 100,000 population were estimated.

In the region, the highest incidence rate was observed in the Caribbean (61.2 per 100,000 inhabitants), followed by South America (46.2), Central America and Mexico (25.9), and North America (3,3). Since 2000, more than 49 million lives have been saved thanks to effective diagnosis and treatment worldwide, says the WHO.

But it is a disease that unfortunately continues to be a major public health problem in the world because for various reasons it has developed mechanisms of resistance to drugs to treat it and in cases combined with HIV or malnutrition can be fatal.

Neglected infectious diseases

Neglected infectious diseases are a group of ills that affect poor populations living in precarious conditions, without access to water, to sanitation, in marginal neighborhoods of large cities, and that are mostly transmitted or produced by parasites, bacteria, or viruses.

These are diseases that most affect underserved populations and those conditions facilitate their development. Both Chagas disease and leprosy are considered neglected infectious diseases in Latin America. Other examples are malaria, dengue, and diseases caused by intestinal parasites, etc.

These diseases constitute an obstacle to the social and economic development of the affected populations. In addition, they cause stigma and discrimination, negatively impact the people who contract them and disproportionately affect the indigenous population groups.