Chagas Disease (American Trypanosomiasis or Kissing Bug Disease)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Bacterial Infections 101 Pictures Slideshow

What are the risk factors for Chagas disease?

Living in an area where the vectors (kissing bugs) that spread the disease are plentiful is a major risk factor for Chagas disease. Such areas are impoverished areas in Mexico and Central and South America. Any residence that is infested with these vectors is a high-risk area; eliminating the areas where the vectors reside reduces the risk. Another risk factor is obtaining a blood transfusion, especially in an endemic region, if the blood donors are not screened for Chagas disease. This risk also occurs for recipients of donated organs. Immunocompromised patients have a higher risk for development of the disease, and some infected women with chronic Chagas (as many as 10%) may transmit the parasites to their newborns (congenital Chagas disease). Also, eating unwashed foods that are contaminated with feces from the infected bugs may cause Chagas disease (food-borne disease).

What are symptoms and signs of Chagas disease?

The symptoms and signs of Chagas disease can be quite variable and range from no symptoms at all to severe and distressing symptoms. The first symptoms and signs, when present in the acute phase, may include some of the following:

Most individuals who get the above acute-phase symptoms have them resolve spontaneously in about three to eight weeks. Occasionally, acute infections show chronic symptoms (listed below) if the patient's immune function is weakened.

Most investigators suggest that the intermediate or indeterminate phase has no symptoms. This stage may last throughout the person's life, and the individuals may never know they have Chagas disease, especially if they had mild or no symptoms in the acute phase. However, this stage may only last about 10-20 years in some patients before the chronic symptoms develop in about 10%-30% of those infected. Some researchers compare the chronic phase of Chagas disease to HIV/AIDS. Whereas HIV/AIDS slowly attacks the immune system, Chagas disease slowly attacks the heart and the tissues of the gastrointestinal tract. Other investigators consider such a comparison as unwarranted publicity or hype to spotlight Chagas disease.

Symptoms of chronic Chagas disease vary according to the organs most affected; in most cases, the heart or the gastrointestinal tract (or both) show the most serious symptoms. Chronic Chagas disease symptoms may include the following:

These symptoms are due to organ damage caused by the persistent presence of the parasites within the tissues of these organs. Chronic inflammation develops as the body reacts to the parasites; it affects the nerve cells or neurons in these tissues, causing electrical conduction changes in the heart (arrhythmias) and poor muscle tone in the intestines.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/2/2015

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Newsletters

Get the latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

VIEW PATIENT COMMENTS
  • Chagas Disease - Symptoms

    Describe the signs and symptoms you experienced with Chagas disease.

    Post View 1 Comment
  • Chagas Disease - Experience

    Where do you think you acquired Chagas disease? Please discuss your experience.

    Post
  • Chagas Disease - Diagnosis

    Describe the events that led to a diagnosis of Chagas disease.

    Post View 2 Comments
  • Chagas Disease - Treatment

    How was your Chagas disease treated?

    Post

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors