Charles Darwin wrote in his journal The Voyage of the Beagle about having been bitten by the Triatoma kissing bug when visiting Chile in 1835, and subsequently suffering poor health, including vomiting, gut pain, headaches and depression, for the rest of his life. The presence of gastric symptoms and his ultimate demise from cardiac problems have led some scholars to propose that Darwin was suffering from Chagas disease, although certain other factors suggest otherwise — including the fact that the parasite is not transmitted directly in the bite of the insect. The many other explanations put forward include stress, allergies and lactose intolerance — an inability to digest milk and dairy products, made worse by Darwin's love of cream. The truth might be unattainable without exhuming Darwin's body from Westminster Abbey in London, United Kingdom, to look for the presence of Trypanosoma cruzi DNA.
Julie Clayton is a freelance writer based in Bristol, United Kingdom.