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New trypanosome in Argentina

Graham Clark graham.clark at LSHTM.AC.UK
Wed Jan 7 07:33:13 EST 1998

The following message just appeared on ProMed. Does any reader of 
this discussion group know anything more about this organism - who 
the groups were in Kenya, the United States, Brazil or England that 
were consulted, for instance? Or what methods of identification were 

C. Graham Clark, Ph.D.
Department of Infectious and Tropical Diseases,
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine,
Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT, England, G.B.

Tel: ++44-171-927-2351
FAX: ++44-171-636-8739
e-mail: g.clark at lshtm.ac.uk

A ProMED-mail post

Date: Mon, 05 Jan 1998 22:22:08 -0500
From: "Dave Coder" <dcoder at u.washington.edu>, translation 
Source: El Clarin, Buenos Aires, Argentina; 12 December 1997 [Excerpts]

A new parasite affects two zoo employees. It is found in numerous
animals in the Mendoza zoo, and in dogs, cats, and horses.  
Scientists still can't identify it.

An undescribed parasite that has characteristics similar to the one 
that causes Chagas' disease, may be the cause of the deaths of 
animals in the [Mendoza] provincial zoo. Recently, links have been 
discovered that implicate the parasite in illnesses in zoo employees 
as well as in cats, dogs and horses in greater Mendoza.  

Local scientists revealed last night [11 December 1997] that from May
until now [12 December 1997], one giraffe, 5 alpacas, and 2 llamas, 
and also one mare that was housed outside the zoo, have died. In all 
cases there was a parasite in the lymphatics in addition to cardiac 
lesions, and acute anemia -- all symptoms compatible with parasitic 

Investigators do not know if the disease was imported along with a
giraffe from the United States that died suddenly, or if the disease 
originated in Mendoza. The provincial government admitted that the 
parasite remains unidentified. They clarified that the infected zoo 
employees do not have clinical symptoms -- they are disease-free at 
the moment -- and are not being treated, but are only undergoing 

In May, following the confusion about what might have caused the death
of mthe giraffe, provincial authorities closed the zoo to the public. 
They reopened it 20 days later without explanation other than they 
were "continuing the investigation."  

The Minister of Health and Social Action, Pablo Marquez, acknowledged
that the trypanosome discovered in Mendoza still has not been 
classified. Non-government investigators Roberto Mera, Silvia Diana 
Brengio and Jose Luis Sanchez affirmed that none of the universities 
consulted by them in Argentina and Kenya, the United States and 
Brazil, could "give a first and last name" to the parasite. 
Yesterday, they sent samples to England.  

One of the theories proposed by the minister is that the trypanosome is
not pathogenic and, as such, does not cause disease. The Federation 
of Veterinary Colleges and Councils of Veterinarians of the Republic 
of Argentina observed that this is "a nerve-racking situation because 
of the inherent risk to public health"...  

It is estimated that most of the animals in the zoo are carriers of the
parasite. The President of the Veterinary College of Mendoza and Dean of
the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Juan Agustin Mazza University,
Alberto Duarte, told this newspaper that they have succeeded in finding
the parasite in guanacos, lions, an Indian buffalo, llamas, goats 
from the Island of Juan Fernandez and Somalian sheep, but not in 
monkeys. Some veterinarians suspect that one or more of the animals 
brought in September of 1994 from the United States may have been 
carriers of the strange trypanosome. Among these animals were two 
giraffes. The male died a few days after a fall, and the female died 
May 2nd of [1997].  

The death of the last giraffe was sudden. Scientists of the Faculty of
Medicine of Cuyo National University found "something that wasn't
normal" in the animal's blood, later identifying it as a trypanosome 
that did not match any known type, but was morphologically similar to 
the one that causes Chagas disease. 

e-mail: promed at usa.healthnet.org

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