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Soda, with a Side of Chagas

How did a deadly disease creep into a popular Brazilian beverage?

Jack Woodall

On February 13, 2005, a man living in a little town near Navegantes in southern Brazil, took his family for a Sunday outing on interstate highway BR-101, which runs alongside an exceptionally beautiful stretch of beaches in Santa Catarina state. In need of refreshment, they drank sugarcane juice from a kiosk by the side of the road. The cane was fresh, machine-crushed in front of them over a block of ice in a jug - just the thing to cool them off in the heat of the southern summer. A short time later they all came down with fever, swollen lymph nodes, malaise, and enlarged livers and spleens. In a few days, four of them were dead.

After all common infections had been excluded, doctors came up with the diagnosis of Chagas' disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis. It kills around 10% of those infected, and one in four survivors...

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