Chagas Disease (cont.)

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What is Chagas disease?

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Chagas disease (also termed American trypanosomiasis) is an infection caused by a protozoan parasite (Trypanosoma cruzi) that can result in acute inflammatory skin changes (chagomas) and eventually may cause infection and inflammation of many other body tissues, especially those of the heart and intestinal tract. The disease may have three phases in an individual: acute, with mild or no symptoms that may last weeks to about two months; intermediate or indeterminate phase that has few if any symptoms and may last 10-20 years or longer; and chronic phase that appears after about 20 years, with the more severe symptoms appearing from gradual chronic organ damage (especially to the heart and intestine, although other organs may be affected) with symptoms that usually remain for life. People with Chagas disease seen in the U.S. usually have acquired it while living in a country where the disease is endemic (Mexico, Central and South America). The CDC estimates about 8-11 million people are infected in countries where the disease is endemic.

Picture of kissing bug, a vector for Chagas disease
Picture of kissing bug, a vector for Chagas disease; SOURCE: CDC/donated by the World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland

American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease) is distinguished from African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness or African sleeping sickness) by the part of the world where they occur, their vectors, and their different symptoms and different treatments (see Table 1).

Table 1 - Comparison of American (Chagas disease) and African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness)
  American trypanosomiasis African trypanosomiasis
Cause T. cruzi T. brucei (subspecies)
Main vector Triatominae bugs (also termed kissing bugs) Tsetse fly
Main symptoms Chagomas, heart, gastrointestinal Chancres, nighttime insomnia, seizures
Treatment Benznidazole, nifurtimox; symptomatic treatments in chronic phase Suramin, melarsoprol, pentamidine, eflornithine
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/7/2012

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