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Chagas Disease

What is Chagas disease?

Chagas disease is an infection caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi.

If not treated properly, Chagas can cause serious illness. Death or chronic symptoms may occur. For those who develop chronic symptoms, the average life expectancy decreases by an average of 9 years.

Chagas disease is also called American trypanosomiasis.

Where is Chagas disease found?

Chagas disease is locally transmitted in Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. It is sometimes transmitted in the United States.

How is Chagas disease spread?

Chagas disease is spread via the bite of an infected parasite (Trypanosoma cruzi). The parasites live in cracks and holes of substandard housing. The parasites become infected after biting an animal or person, who is already infected with the Chagas disease.

People can also become infected with Chagas by:

  • unknowingly touching their eyes, mouth, or open cuts after having come into contact with infective triatome bug feces
  • eating uncooked food contaminated with triatome bug feces
  • receiving infection from mother during pregnancy or at birth
  • receiving an infected blood transfusion or organ transplant

Who is most at risk for Chagas disease?

People who regularly sleep in poorly constructed houses found in the rural areas of Central and South America are most likely to become infected with Chagas disease. Houses constructed from mud, adobe, or thatch are more likely than others to be infested with triatomine bugs.

Blood transfusion recipients are at risk as well, because blood is not screened for Chagas.

What are the symptoms of Chagas disease?

Symptoms of Chagas disease may begin within a few days to a few weeks after infection. However, many t people do not have symptoms until the chronic stage of infection. The chronic stage of infection occurs 100 to 30 years after first being infected.

There are three stages of infection in Chagas disease; each stage has different symptoms. On one extreme, some persons may be infected and never develop symptoms. On the other extreme, in people who have weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, the symptoms of Chagas disease can be severe.

Acute stage:
Acute symptoms only occur in about 1 percent of cases (one in a hundred). The most recognized symptom of acute Chagas infection is the Romaña's sign – a person's eye on one side of the face swells, usually at the bite wound or where feces were deposited or accidentally rubbed into the eye.

Other symptoms that are not unique to Chagas disease may include: fatigue, fever, enlarged liver or spleen, and
swollen lymph glands .

Sometimes a person develops a rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting. In infants and in very young children with acute Chagas disease, the brain may be damaged severely enough to cause death. In general, a person's symptoms last from 4 to 8 weeks and then they go away, even without treatment.

Indeterminate stage:
Eight to 10 weeks after infection, the indeterminate stage begins and may last for many years. During this stage, people do not have symptoms.

Chronic stage:
Ten to 30 or 40 years after infection, 20-30% of infected people may develop the most serious symptoms of Chagas disease, such as

cardiac problems, including an enlarged heart; altered heart rate or rhythm; heart failure; or cardiac arrest. And,
enlargement of the esophagus or large bowel, which results in problems with swallowing or severe constipation.
Not everyone with Chagas disease will develop the chronic-stage symptoms.

Can Chagas disease be Treated?

Yes. Treatment of Chagas is most effective during the early acute stage of infection. In the chronic stage, treatment involves managing symptoms associated with the disease.

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