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Sick on a South American Sugarcane Plantation


Kevin M. Bonney
Liberal Studies, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
New York University


This case study familiarizes readers with a disease that affects millions of people in Central and South America while illustrating a relatively uncommon route of transmission.  The narrative is based on reports of oral transmission of Trypanosoma cruzi, the causative agent of Chagas disease, through consumption of freshly prepared juices contaminated with T. cruzi.  Students read about two plantation workers in Brazil who develop a disease with ambiguous symptoms of unknown origin, and then research potential causes, diagnostic tests, and treatments. Students will need to apply critical thinking skills to determine the most likely pathogen, understand the basic biology of that pathogen, and synthesize plans for a public health campaign aimed at decreasing the incidence of the disease. The case also touches on socioeconomic issues associated with neglected tropical diseases. Designed for use in an undergraduate microbiology course, the case is also appropriate for high school or undergraduate courses in introductory biology, microbiology, parasitology, and public health. It may even be useful for an interdisciplinary Latin American studies program.

  • Acquire knowledge of the following terms: American trypanosomiasis, acute and chronic Chagas disease, parasite, protozoan, Trypanosoma cruzi, triatomine (reduviid) bug, and vectoral transmission.
  • Evaluate the presentation of disease symptoms, along with demographic, behavioral, and environmental factors for clues to likely causes of an unknown disease.
  • Conduct research using external scientific and medical resources and apply this knowledge to synthesize a diagnosis and identify possible treatments for Chagas disease.
  • Compare and contrast the symptoms and temporal progression of acute and chronic Chagas disease.
  • Explain the difference between bacteria and protozoans (including differences in cell structure, associated diseases, and treatment).
  • Utilize critical thinking skills to create multifaceted solutions to the complex problem of eradicating the public health burden of American trypanosomiasis in different populations.
  • Create visual aids to inform an audience of scientific and public health-related information.
  • Evaluate the relationship of socioeconomic factors to the epidemiology and other public health issues associated with Chagas disease.
Keywords: American trypanosomiasis; Chagas disease; parasite; parasitology; protozoan; Trypanosoma cruzi; Brazil; South America; developing world
Topical Area: Social issues
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Discussion, Interrupted, Student Presentations
Language: English
Subject Headings: Microbiology   Public Health   Biology (General)   Medicine (General)  
Date Posted: 5/3/2013
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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