Chagas Disease

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Overview

Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted to animals and people by insect vectors and is found only in the Americas (mainly, in rural areas of Latin America where poverty is widespread). Chagas disease (T. cruzi infection) is also referred to as American trypanosomiasis.


It is estimated that as many as 8 million people in Mexico, Central America, and South America have Chagas disease, most of whom do not know they are infected. If untreated, infection is lifelong and can be life threatening.


The impact of Chagas disease is not limited to only rural areas of Latin America in which vectorborne transmission (diseases transmitted by insects) occurs. Large-scale population movements from rural to urban areas of Latin America and to other regions of the world have increased the geographic distribution and changed the epidemiology of Chagas disease. In the United States and in other regions where Chagas disease is now found but is not endemic, control strategies should focus on preventing transmission from blood transfusion, organ transplantation, and mother-to-baby (congenital transmission).


Symptoms

Swelling at the infection site.

Fever.

Fatigue.

Rash.

Body aches.

Eyelid swelling.

Headache.

Loss of appetite

Causes

Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted to animals and people by insect vectors and is found only in the Americas (mainly, in rural areas of Latin America where poverty is widespread). Chagas disease (T. cruzi infection) is also referred to as American trypanosomiasis.

Risk factors

Living in poor rural areas of Central America, South America and Mexico.

Living in a residence that contains triatomine bugs.

Receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplant from a person who carries the infection.

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Complications

Chronic Chagas disease may cause serious complications that affect the heart and gastrointestinal tract. These complications may be life-threatening if left untreated. Heart complications include:


Arrhythmia (unusual heart rate or rhythm).

Cardiac arrest (sudden death).

Dilated cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart).

Heart failure.

Intestinal tract complications may include:


Megaesophagus (enlarged esophagus).

Megacolon (enlarged colon).

In rare cases, young children or immunosuppressed people infected with Chagas disease develop life-threatening complications, including:


Myocarditis (severe inflammation and infection of the heart muscle).

Meningoencephalitis (severe inflammation and infection of the brain).

Irregular heartbeat.

Heart failure.

Sudden cardiac arrest.

Difficulty swallowing due to enlarged esophagus.

Stomach pain or constipation due to enlarged colon.

Prevention

If you live in areas of transmission, there are several things you can do to help prevent Chagas disease. These include:


Use insecticide spray around houses and other structures.

Clean your home frequently.

Use nets around beds to keep the bug away from your face.

Be sure your food is thoroughly cleaned and fully cooked.

If you live in a high-risk area for Chagas disease, these steps can help you prevent infection: Avoid sleeping in a mud, thatch or adobe house. These types of residences are more likely to harbor triatomine bugs. Use insecticide-soaked netting over your bed when sleeping in thatch, mud or adobe houses.