Chagas disease is a major public health problem in Bolivia. In the city of Cochabamba, 58% of the population lives in peripheral urban districts ("popular zones") where the infection prevalence is extremely high. From 1995 to 1999, we studied the demographics of Chagas infections in children from five to 13 years old (n = 2218) from the South zone (SZ) and North zone (NZ) districts, which differ in social, environmental, and agricultural conditions. Information gathered from these districts demonstrates qualitative and quantitative evidence for the active transmission of Trypanosoma cruzi
in urban Cochabamba. Seropositivity was high in both zones (25% in SZ and 19% in NZ). We observed a high risk of infection in children from five to nine years old in SZ, but in NZ, a higher risk occurred in children aged 10-13, with odds ratio for infection three times higher in NZ than in SZ. This difference was not due to triatomine density, since more than 1,000 Triatoma infestans
were captured in both zones, but was possibly secondary to the vector infection rate (79% in SZ and 37% in NZ). Electrocardiogram abnormalities were found to be prevalent in children and pre-adolescents (SZ = 40%, NZ = 17%), indicating that under continuous exposure to infection and re-infection, a severe form of the disease may develop early in life. This work demonstrates that T. cruzi
infection should also be considered an urban health problem and is not restricted to the rural areas and small villages of Bolivia.