Chagas Disease - American trypanosomiasis

Chagas Disease is an infectious disease caused by the parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi. Chagas Disease is also referred to as American Trypanosomiasis. There are approximately 17 million people with Chagas Disease all over the world. From that population, nearly fifty thousand deaths will result from Chagas Disease.

Chagas Disease is unusual in the United States, but is common to Venezuela, Peru, Argentina, Suriname, Belize, Panama, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Honduras, Costa Rica, Guyana, Ecuador, Guatemala, El Salvador, and French Guiana.

Chagas Disease is spread by Triatomine bugs, also known as kissing bugs, that live in housing material. These bugs consume blood and are especially prevalent in Mexico and South and Central America. Triaomine bugs bite an individual or an animal with Chagas Disease, become infected, and spread the disease.

Humans and animals may become infected from the feces of Triatomine bugs through accidental contact via open wounds or the eyes. Humans and animals may consume foods contaminated by the feces of Triatomine bugs as well. It is possible to become infected through organ transplants and blood transfusions. Mothers may also spread infection to their babies during pregnancy or during the birth. Direct consumption of the Triatomine bugs could also cause infection.

The early stage of Chagas Disease is not particularly, but Chagas Disease is a very serious illness and could still result in death for infants, even at the early stages. It takes about fifteen years after infection for approximately a third of the cases of Chagas Disease to show chronic symptoms. Chagas Disease decreases life expectancy by approximately nine years.

Individuals who live in substandard housing in rural areas, especially in South America and Central America are at greater risk of Chagas Disease. Triatomine bugs favor houses built from earthen material and thatch. Patients who have received blood transfusions are also more vulnerable to Chagas Disease because blood for transfusion is not checked for Chagas Disease. Well constructed houses are not at risk of being inhabited by Triatomine.

There are three stages to Chagas Disease and the symptoms vary by stage. In rare instances, the patient will experience no symptoms from Chagas Disease. Conversely, individuals with weak immune systems may experience severe symptoms that are far worse than the average case of Chagas Disease.

The first stage is known as the acute stage and symptoms manifest in only one out of a hundred individuals. A common manifestation of the acute stage is the Romana’s Sign, when an individual’s eye swells. This indicates that this is where the feces of the Triatomine infected the individual. Further symptoms at this stage may be an enlarged spleen, an enlarged liver, fever, fatigue, or swelling of the lymph glands. There have been reports of patients experiencing a suppressed appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, and rashes. Chagas Disease has been known to cause brain damage in babies and young children. Some instances of brain damage have resulted in death.

Most cases of Chagas Disease experience symptoms for up to eight weeks and then resolve. If the disease is left to progress, it enters the indeterminate stage which occurs approximately ten weeks after the initial infection. This stage is known to last several years and is usually asymptomatic.

Approximately forty years after the initial infection, the final stage of Chagas Disease begins and is known as the chronic stage. Up to thirty percent of cases enter this stage. While not all individuals will experience the symptoms of chronic stage, as the name suggests, the symptoms are severe and long lasting. The symptoms of the chronic stage include very bad constipation, heart failure, cardiac arrest, an enlarged heart, cardiac issues, an enlarged esophagus, an enlarged large bowel, and constant difficulty swallowing.

Any concerns regarding Chagas Disease should be brought to your doctor. If you worry that you are suffering from Chagas Disease, your doctor will be able to perform blood tests and search for any signs of the parasites or antibodies that indicate the presence of parasites.

Treatment for Chagas Disease works best at the acute stage. The infection is easily treatable with medication when caught early on. During the later stages of Chagas Disease, it is more difficult to find the right medication and the goal of treatment shifts to managing symptoms rather than resolving Chagas Disease fully.

In order to prevent getting Chagas Disease, individuals should be cautious about sleeping in poorly constructed houses. When faced with potential areas of contamination, use insecticides. If you are looking into blood transfusions in other countries, make sure to ask if they screen for Chagas Disease. There is no vaccine against Chagas Disease.

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