Chagas Disease: History of a Continent's Scourge

François Delaporte (Author) Arthur Goldhammer (Translator)
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Fran ois Delaporte's Chagas Disease chronicles Brazilian medicine's encounter with a disease, an insect, and a history of discovery. Between 1909 and 1911, Carlos Chagas described an infection (pathogenic trypanosome), its intermediate host, and the illness that he believed it caused, parasitic thyroiditis. Chagas's work did not lack significance: the disease that came to share his name would be one of Latin America's most serious endemic diseases. However, the clinical identification of the disease through "Roma a's sign" (a palpebral edema or swelling of the eyelid) some decades later marked a transformation in the general medical knowledge of the disease and its basis altogether. Not only was the disease entity that Chagas had described shown to be a nosological illusion, but twenty-five years of scientific controversy turned out to have been based on a misunderstanding. The continued use of the term "Chagas's Disease" even after Cecilio Roma a's discovery thus refers to a fundamental ambiguity. Delaporte dispels this ambiguity by re-examining the various discoveries, dead ends, controversies, and major epistemological transformations that marked the history of the disease--a history that begins with the creation of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute in Rio de Janeiro and ends in the forests of Santa Fe in northern Argentina. Delaporte's study shows how an epistemological focus can add depth to the history of medicine and complexity to accounts of scientific discovery.

Product Details

Fordham University Press
Publish Date
August 14, 2012
6.1 X 0.7 X 9.0 inches | 0.85 pounds
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About the Author

François Delaporte (Author) François Delaporte is Professor Emeritus of the University of Picardia Jules Verne. Several of his books have been translated into English, including Disease and Civilization: The Cholera in Paris, 1832; The History of Yellow Fever; Anatomy of the Passions; and Nature's Second Kingdom. He also edited A Vital Rationalist: Selected Writings of Georges Canguilhem. Todd Meyers (Foreword By) Todd Meyers is Associate Professor of Anthropology at New York University-Shanghai. He is the author of The Clinic and Elsewhere: Addiction, Adolescents, and the Afterlife of Therapy. Arthur Goldhammer (Translator) Arthur Goldhammer is Senior Affiliate of the Center for European Studies at Harvard University.


In this finely crafted monograph, Francois Delaporte tackles one of the most complex diseases, American trypanosomiasis, known as Chagas Disease. Through his skillful dissection, he shows how complicated its discovery actually was, and offers wonderful insights into the international dimensions of Brazilian medical science in the early twentieth century. It is good to have this important work available in English.----W. F. Bynum, MD, PhD, FRCP "Professor Emeritus, University College London "
Delaporte's brilliant historical exploration of Chagas' disease covers the decisive period of 1909-1935. The strength of the study is the exhaustive discussion of the scientific literature, the subtle examination of fundamental shifts in conceptual frameworks, and the unrelenting interrogation of the crucial role that chance and error play in scientific research. What Delaporte has written is a comédie humaine of post-colonial science.----Carlo Caduff "King's College, London "
Several points about the discovery of Chagas disease as described in the book are striking.----The Lancet
'Chagas Disease' is a page-turner, where the reader is invited to wonder what will happen next.----International Studies in the Philosophy of Science
If Delaporte is correct then Chagas did not discover the causative organisms of American trypanosomiasis, did not work out the life cycle in the bug and did not discover the disease. So why is he so revered? Delaporte thinks that this is because Chagas was an expert at reformulating the past by rewriting history.----Parasitology