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Chagas disease hits home

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

When you love your pet, it's not easy to watch one die. That's a hard lesson that animal lover Pat Godkin of Pipe Creek is having to learn. Her dog, a blue-eyed boxer named Pablo, is dying of Chagas disease.
And as Godkin has searched for help for Pablo, she has faced huge obstacles from doctors, scientists and governmental entities.
"There is a major cover-up of the extent of Chagas in this country," Godkin contends.
Regular readers of the Courier may indeed know more about the so-called "kissing bug disease" than many professionals Godkin has contacted. We first gave you an article about the disease when a Bandera County woman contacted us to say her husband was being tested for the disease. The man was luckier than Godkin's beloved pet. He tested negative.
Pablo is a rescue that Godkin has used as a therapy dog in nursing homes. "When you put on his service collar, he's ready to go," said Godkin. However, in the past few months, Pablo has been so ill he has not wanted to visit anybody.
"He got really sick. He had renal failure, liver problems, all kinds of problems," said Godkin. The vet thought it might be heart failure. Tests came back positive for lymphoma.
Pablo is currently being treated for lymphoma, although the treatment will probably weaken his immune system, allowing the Chagas to take over and overwhelm his system. "We've learned that Chagas can give a false positive for lymphoma," said Godkin.
As Pablo's condition worsened, Godkin insisted the dog be tested for Chagas. The veterinarian said, "It'll be like looking for zebras in a horse pen." But Pablo did indeed test positive for Chagas.
The confirmation of the disease has led Godkin on a, so far, fruitless search for medications to treat the dog.
As we informed you in our previous articles, Chagas has been a major problem for both animals and humans in South America for years. According to most sources in the US, there have been few verified cases. In fact, the Texas Department of Health and the federal Center for Disease Control do not at this time recommend testing for the disease, nor are reports of positive testing required to be filed.
According to Godkin, that's one of the reasons she can't get medications for her sick pet. "We've contacted 17 veterinarians, and they are not even testing for it," said Godkin, "but they are all reviewing their records now."
A dog that dies from Chagas may be recorded as a death from heart failure or other complications.
Godkin originally thought Pablo had been poisoned at an animal adoption event. "Sometimes people will give the dogs a treat and we can't always check everything," she said.
Only two drugs are currently available for the treatment of Chagas, one in Brazil and one in Argentina. Godkin is desperately seeking someone with veterinary connections in either of those countries to obtain the meds Pablo so desperately needs. "He needs 75 of the 100 mg pills," she said. "The CDC won't release the meds. They say they're needed to treat people with the disease. There is some in San Antonio at Southwest Research, but they're limiting it to primates [for a study.]"
After a lot of emails and phone calls, Godkin now has permission from the CDC to import the meds into the country - if she can find a source.
I asked her if she had considered the Mexican drug cartels, and she replied, "The pharmacists in Mexico have certainly tried to sell me every other kind of drug!"
A contact at Texas Zoonosis Control told her there was nothing they could do and to "expect the dog to die." In Argentina, the government has taken a pro-active approach in treating Chagas, developing drugs and distributing them. "We've heard there is a 60 to 80 percent cure ratio if it can be caught before there is any heart damage," said Godkin.
A source at the CDC that spoke only if it was off the record indicated that there "are possibly 300,000 people with the disease in the Southern parts of the US."
Another source at Texas A&M said there are 1,500 dogs with the disease in Texas, but "why test for something you can't treat?"
"What kind of stupid is this?" Godkin wonders. It's estimated there could be as many as one million animals and people infected with the disease in the US today. "That would be a heck of a potential market for a drug manufacturer," says Godkin. This disease is going to be bigger than AIDS, she contends.
Right now, Godkin will settle. "We just need the medicine," she said.
You can find her on Facebook for more information, or to contact her about making a donation to help with Pablo's medical care.