Carlos Chagas with Berenice

Date: 1907
Owner: Casa de Oswaldo Cruz
Source Type: Images


This photograph shows Dr. Carlos Chagas (1879-1934) sitting with Berenice, the young girl in whom he first discovered symptoms that he attributed to a new parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, which he had discovered in 1909 while working for Oswaldo Cruz. The parasite lived inside the Reduviid bug, a large insect that lived in the walls of impoverished dwellings and spread the parasite while feeding on human blood. Chagas's disease was noteworthy, among other reasons, because he first identified the parasite and then the symptoms it caused, an order of operations reflecting how important microbiology had become to the Instituto Oswaldo Cruz's approach to tropical medicine.

The disease was named after Chagas and, in 1925, Chagas was elected Chair of Tropical Medicine. His greatest contribution to Brazilian public health, however, may have been raising awareness of the severity of conditions in Brazil's poor interior. Romantic ideas about rural villagers living in lush environs were replaced by images (indeed, photographs) of poor people suffering from the several manifestations of Chagas's disease, including paralysis and retardation. Exposing the harsh reality of the life of the rural poor increased Brazilian efforts to promote hygiene and fight the vectors of parasites throughout the country. Nevertheless, over five million Brazilians still suffer from Chagas's disease, and there is still no cure.

References: Coutinho, Marilia. "Ninety Years of Chagas Disease: A Success Story at the Periphery." In Social Studies of Science, Vol. 29, no. 4 (Aug., 1999), p. 519-549.

Stepan, Nancy Leys. Picturing Tropical Nature. Ithaca: Cornell University Pres, 2001.

CITATION: Casa de Oswaldo Cruz.