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Chagas Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Treatment

Chagas diseases (CD) is a silent yet life-threatening disease caused by a protozoan parasite named Trypanosoma cruzi (T.cruzi). The disease is also known as American trypanosomiasis as it is found mainly in rural areas of America where there is a lack of hygiene and poverty is widespread.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the CD has infected around 6-7 million people worldwide, with Latin America been on the top of it. The disease is endemic in many parts of Latin America transmitted by triatomine bugs. CD was first discovered in the year 1909 by a Brazilian physician named Carlos Ribeiro Justiniano Chagas. [1]

Many domestic and wild animals such as opossums, rodents and monkeys of the United States are reservoirs of T.cruzi parasites. A bloodsucking insect named triatomine bug take a blood meal by feeding on these animals. In the process, the parasites from infected animals get into the body of bugs, which is then passed to their faeces or urine. In Latin America, triatomine bugs are mainly found in the wall or roof cracks of houses. This is common in rural or suburban areas where houses are made especially with mud, palm thatch and straw. Usually, the bugs hide during the day and become active at night. They emerge from the walls during the night when humans are sleeping and bite on their exposed areas. The bugs mostly bite on people faces, the reason why triatomine bugs are also known as ‘kissing bugs’. After the bugs bite, they defecate (poop) near the bite area. A person becomes infected when T.cruzi parasites in the bug faeces accidentally enter into the body through wounds of the bite, breaks in the skin or mucous membranes such as eyes or mouth. [2]

T.cruziparasites can also infect people through other means such as:

Consumption of food contaminated with poop or urine of triatomine bugs.

Blood transfusions from infected donors.

Organ transplant from infected donors.

To newborn babies from infected mothers.

Laboratory accidents

Symptoms Of Chagas Disease

The symptoms of CD can result from mild to moderate. They are of two types depending on the severity of the condition.

1. Acute phase: This phase lasts for around weeks or months (mainly two) and only less than 50 per cent of people develops mild symptoms. During the acute phase, the parasites usually circulate in the blood. The phase is difficult to diagnose as the symptoms are similar to other infections.

2. Chronic phase: As the disease proceeds with no symptoms, the parasites can slowly attack the heart or digestive system leading to cardiac complications such as enlarged heart or cardiac arrest or gastrointestinal complications like the enlarged oesophagus. People may also suffer from some neurological problems or die suddenly in their later years due to heart failure. [4]

Risk Factors Of Chagas Disease

Living in poor housing conditions as triatomine bugs thrive mainly in houses made with mud walls.

Visiting areas where the disease is endemic, like in rural areas of Mexico and Central America.

Receiving blood transfusion from an infected person.

Receiving organ transplant from an infected person.

Untreated CD before pregnancy.

Complications Of Chagas Disease

Heart failure

Enlarged heart

Altered heart rhythm


Enlarged colon


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