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Think You Want to Catch a Kissing Bug from Messi? Think Again.

By - May 6 2014

Messi Chagas

Click above to hear Leo Messi talk about the “kissing bug” chagas, and why we should work together to stop it.

One is never too little to swoon over a great footballer. With Leo Messi dominating pre-World Cup coverage, even my three year old yells “quiero Messi” as she runs about in her FC Barcelona t-shirt.  His female fanbase would be glad to catch a kiss from Messi, but has the soccer star been speaking out against just that? In a recent video, he encourages action against this bug, raising awareness of its dangers and pushing a movement against it.  Why? A “kissing bug” sounds innocent enough, and even, especially with Messi involved, something you might want to catch! More formally known as Chagas disease, the kissing bug is a potentially life-threatening illness caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi.

These “bugs” are 0.5 to 2 centimeters long, and thrive in rural dwellings composed of mud walls, and thatched roofs. Endemic to areas of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) including Mexico, Central America, the Argentina’s Gran Chaco region, Bolivia and Paraguay, they have also been seen in the southern United States.

Infection is most commonly acquired through contact with the feces of an infected bug, a blood-sucking insect that feeds on humans and animals. Infection can also occur: congenitally (from mother-to-baby), from transfusions (contaminated blood products), an organ transplanted from an infected donor, a laboratory accident, or, though rarely, contaminated food or drink.

Worldwide, this kissing bug is no joke. It is estimated that 65 million people are at risk of infection, and 28,000 new cases occur each year, with 8,000 infants infected during pregnancy. Between 7 and 8 million people are already infected, most of whom reside in Latin America, and with less than 1% receiving treatment, 12,000 die every year. Although mortality has significantly declined, the disease can cause irreversible and chronic harm to the heart, digestive system, and nervous system. Hear Miguel’s story.

So, what are we doing about this? Riding the wave of World Cup momentum and within the context of the “Achieving Sustainable Change through Sport” seminar, a public-private partnership is forming between Fundación Mundo Sano, the IDB, and the Government of Japan to control the transmission of Chagas disease in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. The partnership will also collaborate with Fundació FC Barcelona and Fundación Messi. It will also be supported by PepsiCo through Gatorade.

This public-private partnership is not merely committed to fighting Chagas, but committed to doing so innovatively. Their groundbreaking approach will promote sport as a tool to implement activities that aid in the detection and treatment of Chagas disease. Information technologies will also be used to support diagnosis and treatment as well as carry out vector control activities in endemic areas.

Fundación Mundo Sano, a signee of the London Declaration, will lead this project in close coordination with the Ministries of Health of Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay and following the Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) principles for integrating actions for NTD control and elimination.

We build on the work of the NTD LAC Initiative, between IDB, Sabin Vaccine Institute/ Global Network for Neglected Tropical Disease and Pan-American Health Organization.

See what we know about the disease and what needs to be done. We are committing to action, how about you? Join us.


This Commitment is subject to the formalization of all IDB internal approvals and entering into implementing arrangements with third parties. In addition, the Commitment is also subject to other partner’s official approval. Such approvals and arrangements may be pending as of the date of this Commitment.      

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