Carlos Chagas and Chagas' Disease

B. H. Kean Department of Medicine, Tropical Medicine Unit, Cornell University Medical College, New York, New York 10021

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Few medical eponyms deserve perpetuation. Their origin often is obscure, their validity dubious, and the honor (if it be an honor) frequently undeserved. Not so for Chagas' disease.

The reason American trypanosomiasis is better known throughout the world by its eponym is recorded in these words of Miguel Couto (who was described as the best Brazilian clinician of his time):

“On that day it was up to me to give a name to those traditional diseases of the Minas backlands, which were now unified as one disease with cause and development clearly established. To name it after only one of its symptoms would be to limit its description, and to name it for all its symptoms would be impossible … And so, at dinner, while toasting Carlos Chagas, I … chosen because of my age, standing with Oswaldo Cruz on my right and surrounded by the men most representative of Brazilian medicine of that era, with a gravity equal to a liturgical act in our religion, such as a baptism, gave the name of Chagas' Disease to that illness … in the name of the entire delegation.”

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