Victims of a neglected tropical disease (NTD) called Chagas disease can now be cured in just two weeks, according to research published Thursday.
The study, by Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), revealed that a new two-week regimen of the drug benznidazole, which is currently used to treat Chagas via a 60-day program, was just as effective as the longer treatment — but caused fewer side effects.
Chagas disease is an infectious disease caused by a parasite (Trypanosoma cruzi) that is transmitted by the triatomine bug. The bugs bite exposed skin, generally around the lips — which is how they get their nickname "kissing bugs."
Chagas disease has two phases: the acute phase and the chronic phase. The initial phase shows little to no symptoms, but if the disease develops into the chronic phase, it can lead to heart disease, which can lead to death or progressive heart failure.
Chagas is most common in Central and South America, but the disease has spread to other parts of the world, too.
“There’s a few problems with the current treatment regimen in that, at the current dosage schedule, the toxicities are quite high,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean at the National School of Tropical Medicine, who was not involved in the study.
Because of its intense side effects, like rashes, fever, vomiting and sleeping issues, 20% of patients do not finish the current treatment course of 60 days.
“It’s being used in resource-poor areas in Latin America predominantly, and so ensuring follow up and access to patients for long a period of time is also very challenging,” Hotez told Global Citizen.
He believes the new two-week regimen could be beneficial, as it will make it a more viable option and reduce side its toxicity.
No severe adverse side effects occurred in any patient participating in the two-week trial, according to the study.
“We can change history,” Sergio Sosa Estani, DNDi’s head of of the Chagas clinical program and one of the study’s researchers, told Global Citizen. “Because we can improve certainly the compliance of the patient, [and] the compliance of the doctors, because the doctors will be more comfortable to prescribe the treatment.”
Estani believes that their research will significantly improve access to treatment for people most in need. He also believes that by targeting women with treatment, they could prevent congenital transmission of Chagas worldwide.
It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s certainly a welcome one for a disease that affects an estimated 6 to 7 million people around the world.