Chagas disease, caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, affects the health of millions of people in Central and South America and kills more than 20,000 each year. The parasite is transmitted by 'kissing bugs', insects that often bite people near their mouth — hence the name — and which thrive in slums because they can hide in cracks in the walls.
This article describes how Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the European Space Agency have joined forces to fight the disease in Nicaragua. Researchers are using ultra-high resolution satellite images to map houses that need treatment — such as spraying insecticide and filling in cracks in their walls. Until now, MSF had been forced to rely on hand-drawn maps for this work.
There is no vaccine for Chagas disease, which initially causes fever and tiredness, and later leads to a weakened heart and internal organs. Also, the effectiveness of drug treatment lessens with age. Targeting the bugs that carry the parasite is therefore important to prevent infections.