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Meds on the way for dog with Chagas

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

After weeks and weeks of searching for a source for medications to treat her dog, Pablo, for the deadly Chagas disease, Patricia Godkin of Pipe Creek got some good news last week.
"We finally heard from a doctor in Mexico and found out they have made some changes in the meds and are using a different name," said Godkin. "We expect to receive the medication by Monday."
Godkin is hoping that will not be too late to save the life of her dog, a beautiful rescue boxer who has served her well as a volunteer therapy dog in nursing homes.
In her attempt to get medicine for treatment, Godkin has discovered what she believes is a massive cover-up of the seriousness of the disease by scientists and governmental agencies.
Currently, the disease, which is rampant in South America, is not considered a "reportable disease" by Texas health authorities or the federal Center for Disease Control.
Most authorities Godkin contacted insisted on speaking to her "off the record," she says. No one knows for sure how many human and canine cases there really are in Texas or nationwide. And what little medication is available is reserved for treating humans, or in the case of a study being conducted by the Texas Biomedical Research Center at Southwest Foundation for Biomdical Research in San Antonio, for treating primate lab animals.
Godkin says that because Chagas is not well known, most veterinarians do not test for it. Because it causes heart, liver and kidney damage, as well as respiratory system problems and brain lesions, the cause of death for dogs may be listed anywhere in a wide range of symptoms, overlooking the possibility of Chagas.
South American countries such as Argentina have been pro-active in treating the disease, and are seeing a cure rate of 60 to 80 percent in dogs if treatment begins before there is heart damage.
A representative from Texas Zoonosis Control "basically said to expect [Pablo] to die," said Godkin.
She got the same message from staff at the CDC, where one person "off the record" said there may already be "300,000 people with the disease in the southern part of the US." Others place the estimates as high as one million people. About one third of those carrying the infection are at risk of Chagas' worst complications: enlarged heart and heart failure.
The disease comes from a parasitic protozoan, Trypanosoma cruzi, which infests the so called "kissing bug" or "bloodsucker," a triatomine insect common in Bandera County.
The disease can be transmitted in humans by blood transfusions, organ transplants and in childbirth, as well as by ingestion of raw or undercooked meat from infected animals and ingestion of infected bugs. Dogs may be infected by eating the bugs, or drinking water that contains the dead remains or feces.
Bites of the bloodsucking conenosed bug are often misdiagnosed as spider bites. While most bites are never felt by the hosts, they can be extremely painful for some people, causing burning, itching, swelling, red blotches, welts and rashes.
Immediate symptoms can be limited, after which the disease usually goes dormant. It re-emerges years or even decades later, causing severe heart or gastrointestinal problems. There are treatments for acute infections, but once the disease causes major organ damage, it cannot be reversed.
In the first phase of the disease, symptoms may include fever, general ill feeling, swelling of one eye or a swollen red area at the site of the insect bite.
The acute phase can include constipation, digestive problems, pain in the abdomen and swallowing difficulties. Complications can include cardiomyopathy, enlargement of the colon, enlargement of the esophagus with swallowing difficulty, heart disease, heart failure or malnutrition.
According to Godkin, several cases of the disease have been found in dogs in local rescue shelters. "We don't know where they got it and more cases are being found all the time," she said. Paying for the Chagas test and paying for the medication can cost a rescue facility more than they currently collect in adoption fees. "It's really putting the rescue groups in a quandary about accepting any more dogs at this time," she said.
Godkin hopes that publicity, a blog or hot line in the local area will help raise awareness of the disease threat to dogs and humans. "We're not going to get any help from the state or the feds," she said. "I'd definitely pay to have my personal dogs tested."
Getting Pablo's medications from Mexico turned out to be a fine example of paying it forward. Decades ago, Godkin's father helped several Mexican immigrants get their US citizenship. Forty-five years later, one of those people overheard Godkin tearfully telling her story to someone else. His daughter is the Mexican doctor Godkin is getting the medicine from.
"This will open up a lot of opportunities to save sick dogs, if we can get these meds," said a relieved Godkin.
We hope it's in time to save Pablo.