Its bite is painless. The red welt it leaves behind is almost unnoticeable and, because it strikes long after the lights go out, you’ll never see it coming. It’s called the vinchuca bug.
This tiny little bug was responsible for what they call “muerte subita” or rapid death. Officially known as Chagas, this deadly disease is caused by a blood-borne parasite carried by the vinchuca bug, and every year it claims more than 50,000 lives.
It attacks by slowly eating away at cardiac muscle until the heart ruptures. It can devour a host’s intestinal wall leading to toxicity and massive internal bleeding. In children it can also produce inflammation of the heart and brain causing immediate death.
Can you imagine what it would be like to hear about children dying in your neighborhood, suddenly and without explanation? As a parent, can you imagine the terror of wondering if your child is next?
These are sobering thoughts. But as horrifying as the vinchuca bug and Chagas are, there is really only one reason they are capable of so much destruction. Vinchuca bugs only strike while their victims are asleep and then retreat to hide in cracks and crevices during the day. This means vinchuca bugs are rarely seen by the villagers they infect.
The Chagas disease the bugs leave behind is also just as insidious. It only exhibits mild flu like symptoms for the first few days of infection. Then it can be a year, five years or even a decade before Chagas suddenly manifests itself in a variety of devastating and many times, deadly ways.
That’s why Esperança is doing everything it can to spread the word. Last year, we were able to educate 50,000 Bolivians on the dangers of the vinchuca bug. We taught them how to locate them, capture them and find out if they carry Chagas. We were also able to show them how to protect themselves from future infestation by cleaning and sanitizing their homes, repairing gaps in their roofs and walls and, in some areas, using specialized paint that contains insecticides. The villages we reach with this vital information see their infections rates dramatically drop – most to less than 3%!
Benita lives in Sunchal with her husband and four children. Located close to the border of Argentina, Sunchal has a high vinchuca infestation rate due to the mud and thatch they use in the construction of their homes. Benita has always been fearful of rapid death, so when Esperança promised to give her village a way to combat this mysterious disease, Benita jumped at the chance. She was chosen by her community to be trained in Chagas prevention and to relay her knowledge to the rest of the village.
“Because of the Chagas training, I’ve learned how this disease kills people and how we can prevent and eliminate the vinchuca bugs in our homes. Esperança gave me posters and cards which my husband and I have used to teach others about this disease and show them how to look for and capture the bugs. Within a week of our visits, many families have turned in small bags of captured vinchuca bugs, which we give to the community health center to determine if they are infected or not. Today my family and I do a search once a month to look for the vinchuca because we now know it keeps our family safe.”