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Parasit Vectors. 2019 Jun 10;12(1):291. doi: 10.1186/s13071-019-3546-0.

Cultural perception of triatomine bugs and Chagas disease in Bolivia: a cross-sectional field study.

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Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, University of Bern, 3012, Bern, Switzerland.
Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, University of Bern, 3012, Bern, Switzerland.



Chagas disease remains a major public health risk in Bolivia, particularly among rural indigenous communities. Here we studied the cultural perception of the triatomine vectors and Chagas disease among selected rural and urban ethnic groups from different socio-economic and geographical milieus. We focused on the indigenous communities in the Bolivian Chaco where the disease is hyperendemic.


A cross-sectional study using field observations and structured interviews was carried out among 480 informants in five different regions of Bolivia. Additional semi-structured interviews were conducted. Statistical analyses were performed to determine the correlation of socio-economic variables and indigenous Chagas disease knowledge systems. A total of 170 domestic Triatoma infestans vectors were collected and infection with Trypanosoma cruzi was analyzed by real-time PCR.


Triatomine bugs were associated with Chagas disease in 70.2% (n = 480) of the responses (48.0% Ayoreo, 87.5% Chiquitano, 83.9% Guaraní, 72.2% Quechua, 46.1% La Paz citizens and 67.7% Santa Cruz citizens). Generally, indigenous informants have been educated on the association between triatomine bugs and Chagas disease by institutional anti-Chagas disease campaigns. While communities were largely aware of the vectors as a principal mode of disease transmission, rather unexpectedly, health campaigns had little influence on their prevention practices, apparently due to cultural constraints. Overall, 71.9% of the collected domestic vectors in the Chaco region were infected with T. cruzi, matching the high infection rates in the indigenous communities.


Among the Guaraní, Ayoreo and Quechua communities, the groups living in traditional houses have not integrated the scientific knowledge about Chagas disease transmission into their daily hygiene and continue to cohabit with T. infestans vectors hyperinfected with T. cruzi. An effective translation of Western disease concepts into traditional preventive measures is missing because asymptomatic infections are not generally perceived as threat by the communities. New participatory approaches involving existing ethnomedical knowledge systems could be a successful strategy in the control of T. cruzi infection.


Bolivia; Chagas disease; Knowledge systems; Neglected tropical diseases; Perception; T. cruzi; Triatoma infestans; Triatominae; Vector

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