I haven't donated blood for a while, but when I did, the nurse would ask me a bunch of questions to find out if I had strange diseases that you get in strange foreign countries. One of the things she would ask was if I had been to any of these countries—which is normally where you catch them. Not any more.
Latin American scourge turning up in U.S. immigrants In L.A., nation's first clinic opens to treat deadly insect-borne Chagas disease
Mary Engel, Los Angeles Times
(11-06) 04:00 PST Los Angeles - —
A Los Angeles County hospital has opened the first clinic in the country devoted to studying and treating Chagas disease, a deadly parasitic illness that has long been the leading cause of heart failure in Latin America and is now being seen in immigrant communities in the United States.
Unless Chagas is treated early, little can be done to halt its advance. Yet because 10 to 20 years can pass before heart or gastrointestinal complications develop, many people don't realize they're infected with what has been called a silent killer.
"We really, really need to become more aware of the potential of this disease in our Latin American population because the long-term outcome is pretty horrific," said Dr. Sheba Meymandi, director of the new center at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center. "If we can block the progression to full-blown Chagas disease and heart failure, we'd be doing a huge service."
[L]ast week the New York Times science section disclosed yet another Third World plague immigration has contributed to the scrutiny of medical science and public hygiene. It makes tuberculosis look rather like a summer cold. [ Rare Infection Threatens to Spread in Blood Supply by Donald G. McNeil Jr., New York Times, 17 Nov 2003]
This one is known as Chagas disease, which flourishes in Latin America and operates mainly by "threatening the United States blood supply," according to the public health officials the Times interviewed.
It is not–yet–common in the United States, but thanks to immigration it may soon be.
Indeed, only nine cases of Chagas transmitted by blood transfusions are known in the United States and Canada in the last 20 years, but perhaps you see the problem despite such encouraging news.
The problem is that as immigration from Latin America increases, and more Latin Americans donate blood, the greater the chance for the disease to enter blood supplies—whence the disease may come to you and your family.
Sam, may he rest in peace, was taken from us by perfectly ordinary American heart disease. But the threat he was writing about lives on, and the next time I go to give blood, the nurse will likely ask if I've been in Benin, Central America, Lagos...or Los Angeles.