I grew up believing that my auntie had almost died because she ate an apple in South America.
According to the family stories, the fruit had been contaminated, or maybe an insect had been crawling on it and had bitten Tía Dora. However it had happened, my family understood this: A New York doctor had diagnosed my auntie with Chagas disease. It meant my auntie could die. We didn’t ask questions. English wasn’t our first language. My parents worked in factories. We took care of my auntie as she went in and out of hospitals for decades. When I reached my late 30s, Tía Dora was rushed to the hospital one night. A week later, she died. She was 59 years old, and I thought Chagas was a rare disease. I was wrong.
Named after the Brazilian doctor who discovered the disease in 1909, Chagas is more prevalent today in the United States than the Zika virus. And in the Western Hemisphere, the disease burden of Chagas is almost eight times that of malaria.