UPDATE 1-U.S. OKs Abbott test for Chagas disease parasite

Wed May 19, 2010 10:26am EDT

* Automated Prism system to test for dangerous parasite

* Disease most common in poor areas of Latin America

NEW YORK May 19 (Reuters) - Abbott Laboratories Inc (ABT.N) has received U.S. approval to market its diagnostic test for a parasite spread by a bug that causes Chagas disease, a potentially fatal condition found only in the Americas.

Abbott said its automated Prism diagnostic system, which also tests for hepatitis, HIV and other retroviruses, will now test for the parasite.

Chagas disease, caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, is found mainly in rural areas of Latin America where poverty is widespread, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates as many as 11 million people in Mexico, Central America and South America have the disease, and most of them don't know they are infected. Infection is lifelong and can be life threatening, leading to heart disease and heart failure.

In areas where the disease is endemic, the parasite is usually carried by triatomine bugs. They hide in crevices in the walls and roofs of houses and bite people's faces at night -- and are therefore nicknamed "kissing bugs."

The parasite can also be spread by blood transfusions, organ transplantation, consumption of uncooked food contaminated by the bug, and from congenital transmission from mother to baby. But it is not spread person to person like a cold or the flu, or through casual contact.

Anti-parasite medications can successfully treat the disease in its early acute phases, and can prevent or delay symptoms during the chronic phase of the disease. (Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; editing by John Wallace)

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