Palm Trees and Chagas' Disease in Panama

Joseph T. Whitlaw Jr.Health and Environment Activity, USA MEDDA, Canal Zone, APO Miami 34004

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Byron N. ChaniotisHealth and Environment Activity, USA MEDDA, Canal Zone, APO Miami 34004

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An ecological survey of triatomines in the sylvan ecosystem of the Canal Zone and selected sites in Panama disclosed for the first time a close association of Rhodnius pallescens and Triatoma dimidiata, the two most important vector species of Chagas' disease in Panama, with a single species of a widely distributed palm tree, Scheelea zonensis. This association may explain why Chagas' disease is prevalent in certain rural communities in Central Panama and rare in others. An immense focus of zoonotic Trypanosoma cruzi infection exists in the forests of the Canal Zone with the presence of large populations of triatomines, associated with Scheelea zonensis and other yet undescribed microhabitats, and high (50–60%) trypanosome infections in all of the major triatomine species. Common opossums, anteaters, and spiny rats seem to be the principal animal reservoirs of T. cruzi in this complex and relatively undisturbed ecosystem.

Author Notes

Present address: USAEHA, Pest Management Division, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland 21010.

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