The potential risk of enzootic Trypanosoma cruzi transmission inside four training and re-training military battalions (BITER) in Colombia

Omar Cantillo-Barraza, Jeffer Torres, Carolina Hernández, Yanira Romero, Sara Zuluaga, Camilo A. Correa-Cárdenas, Giovanny Herrera, Omaira Rodríguez, María Teresa Alvarado, Juan David Ramírez, Claudia Méndez

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Background: Colombia’s National Army is one of the largest military institutions in the country based on the number of serving members and its presence throughout the country. There have been reports of cases of acute or chronic cases of Chagas disease among active military personnel. These may be the result of military-associated activities performed in jungles and other endemic areas or the consequence of exposure to Trypanosoma cruzi inside military establishments/facilities located in endemic areas. The aim of the present study was to describe the circulation of T. cruzi inside facilities housing four training and re-training battalions [Battalions of Instruction, Training en Re-training (BITERs)] located in municipalities with historical reports of triatomine bugs and Chagas disease cases. An entomological and faunal survey of domestic and sylvatic environments was conducted inside each of these military facilities. Methods: Infection in working and stray dogs present in each BITER location was determined using serological and molecular tools, and T. cruzi in mammal and triatomine bug samples was determined by PCR assay. The PCR products of the vertebrate 12S rRNA gene were also obtained and subjected to Sanger sequencing to identify blood-feeding sources. Finally, we performed a geospatial analysis to evaluate the coexistence of infected triatomines and mammals with the military personal inside of each BITER installation. Results: In total, 86 specimens were collected: 82 Rhodnius pallescens, two Rhodnius prolixus, one Triatoma dimidiata and one Triatoma maculata. The overall T. cruzi infection rate for R. pallescens and R. prolixus was 56.1 and 100% respectively, while T. dimidiata and T. maculata were not infected. Eight feeding sources were found for the infected triatomines, with opossum and humans being the most frequent sources of feeding (85.7%). Infection was most common in the common opossum Didelphis marsupialis, with infection levels of 77.7%. Sylvatic TcI was the most frequent genotype, found in 80% of triatomines and 75% of D. marsupialis. Of the samples collected from dogs (n = 52), five (9.6%; 95% confidence interval: 3.20–21.03) were seropositive based on two independent tests. Four of these dogs were creole and one was a working dog. The spatial analysis revealed a sympatry between infected vectors and mammals with the military population. Conclusions: We have shown a potential risk of spillover of sylvatic T. cruzi transmission to humans by oral and vectorial transmission in two BITER installations in Colombia. The results indicate that installations where 100,000 active military personnel carry out training activities should be prioritized for epidemiological surveillance of Chagas disease. Graphical abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number519
JournalParasites and Vectors
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Parasitology
  • Infectious Diseases


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