Chagas Disease

February 1, 2017

Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasi, is an illness caused by the zoonotic protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which may be contracted through a variety of manners including a blood transfusion. It is a disease that is caught from infected triatomine bugs or “kissing bugs”. The disease can cause serious damage to the heart and stomach. However, the disease can also be transmitted from mother to baby (congenital), through organ transplant, or through blood transfusion. Chagas disease is considered a Neglected Parasitic Infection, one of a group of diseases that results in significant illness among those who are infected and is often poorly understood by health care providers.

The infection affects up to 20 million people in Mexico, Central America, and South America, making Chagas disease the highest impact infectious disease in Latin America. In addition to being a disease of poverty, Chagas disease is also poverty-promoting in striking hardest in young adults. Chagas disease has recently gained some notoriety in the United States due to both endogenous (“home-grown”) and imported cases, prompting concern about the safety of blood and organ/tissue donations.

Chagas disease has two phases: an early (or acute) phase and a late (or chronic) phase.

  • Acute Phase – Lasts a few weeks to 2-3 months
  • Chronic Phase – Can last many years, or decades

The initial infection usually does not cause severe symptoms and is often not even diagnosed. After years of chronic infection, some people develop heart diseases such as abnormal rhythms, heart failure, and an increased risk of sudden death. Chagas disease can also cause gastrointestinal problems, such as severe constipation and difficulty swallowing.


People can become infected in various ways. In Chagas disease-endemic areas, the main way is through vectorborne transmission. The insect vectors are called triatomine bugs. These blood-sucking bugs get infected by biting an infected animal or person. Once infected, the bugs pass T. cruzi parasites in their feces. The bugs are found in houses made from materials such as mud, adobe, straw, and palm thatch. During the day, the bugs hide in crevices in the walls and roofs. During the night, when the inhabitants are sleeping, the bugs emerge. Because they tend to feed on people’s faces, triatomine bugs are also known as “kissing bugs”. After they bite and ingest blood, they defecate on the person. The person can become infected if T. cruzi parasites in the bug feces enter the body through mucous membranes or breaks in the skin. The unsuspecting, sleeping person may accidentally scratch or rub the feces into the bite wound, eyes, or mouth. People also can become infected through –

  • Congenital transmission (from a pregnant woman to her baby);
  • Blood transfusion;
  • Organ transplantation;
  • Consumption of uncooked food contaminated with feces from infected bugs; and
  • Accidental laboratory exposure.

It is generally considered safe to breastfeed even if the mother has Chagas disease. However, if the mother has cracked nipples or blood in the breast milk, she should pump and discard the milk until the nipples heal and the bleeding resolves.

Chagas disease is not transmitted from person-to-person like a cold or the flu or through casual contact with infected people or animals.

Risk Factors

  • Living in a hut where reduvid bugs live in the walls
  • Living in Central or South America
  • Poverty
  • Receiving a blood transfusion from a person who carries the parasite but does not have active Chagas disease


Chagas disease has an incubation period of around 5 to 14 days before symptoms start to manifest. In the initial few weeks or months after being bitten, a person may develop a mild fever with body ache and swelling at the site of the bite called a chagoma.

The acute phase of Chagas disease, which lasts for weeks or months, is often symptom-free. When signs and symptoms do occur, they are usually mild and may include –

  • Swelling at the infection site
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Rash
  • Body aches
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea, diarrhea or vomiting
  • Swollen glands
  • Enlargement of your liver or spleen

Signs and symptoms that develop during the acute phase usually go away on their own. If left untreated, the infection persists and, in some cases, advances to the chronic phase.

However, this phase of the disease can be symptomless and it often passes without causing long-term complications and without requiring treatment. Some individuals, however, may develop long-term consequences of the infection and these can be severe and sometimes life threatening.

It may take 5 to 40 years for these symptoms to manifest. The symptoms of this later phase include –

  • Irregular heartbeat that may lead to sudden cardiac arrest or sudden death
  • Heart failure
  • Enlarged heart that is unable to pump blood efficiently
  • Stroke
  • Problems with the digestive system such as enlargement of the food pipe (esophagus) or colon.


There are two approaches to therapy, both of which can be life saving –

  • Antiparasitic treatment is most effective early in the course of infection but is not limited to cases in the acute phase. In the United States, this type of treatment is available through CDC. Your health care provider can talk with CDC staff about whether and how you should be treated. Most people do not need to be hospitalized during treatment.
  • Symptomatic treatment may help people who have cardiac or intestinal problems from Chagas disease. For example, pacemakers and medications for irregular heartbeats may be life saving for some patients with chronic cardiac disease.

Two drugs are used to treat this infection – Benznidazole and Nifurtimox. Both drugs often have side effects. The side effects may be worse in older people. Side effects may include:

  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Neuropathy
  • Problems sleeping
  • Skin rashes

Alternative Treatment

(Not Found)


Reference –

Posted in A-Z-Search