Our Chagas Disease Main Article provides a comprehensive look at the who, what, when and how of Chagas Disease
Definition of Chagas disease
Chagas disease: An infection caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. Also called American trypanosomiasis. Transmitted by reduviid bugs, or kissing bugs, that live in cracks and holes of substandard housing primarily found in South and Central America. These insects become infected after biting an animal or person who already has Chagas disease. Infection is spread to humans when an infected bug deposits feces on a person's skin, usually while the person is sleeping at night. The person often accidently rubs the feces into the bite wound, an open cut, the eyes, or mouth. Infected mothers can pass infection to their baby during pregnancy, at delivery, or while breastfeeding.
Chagas disease primarily affects low income people living in rural areas. Many people get the infection during childhood. The early stage of infection (acute Chagas disease) usually is not severe, but sometimes it can cause death, particularly in infants. However, in about one-third of those who get the infection, chronic symptoms develop after 10-20 years. For these persons who develop chronic symptoms, the average life expectancy decreases by an average of 9 years. There are three stages of infection with Chagas disease;
The incubation period (from contact with the parasite to symptoms) ranges from a few days to weeks. Most people do not have symptoms until the chronic stage of infection, 10-20 years after first being infected.
Chagas disease can be transmitted by blood transfusion or organ transplant. In fact, transmission through blood transfusion is now the second main route of infection. In some but not all countries in South and Central America, 100% of blood donors are screened. Infection rates among blood recipients vary from 0.1- 4.2% in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, and can be up to 24.4% in Bolivia. Economic hardship in Latin America has stimulated migration of rural people to urban areas, increasing the possibility of acquiring the infection by blood transfusion in cities. The problem has extended to developed countries because of the increase in population migrations. The infectivity risk, defined as the likelihood of being infected when receiving an infected transfusion unit, has been estimated as 20%.
Medication for Chagas disease is usually effective when given during the acute stage of infection. Once the disease has progressed to later stages, medication may be less effective. In the chronic stage, treatment involves managing symptoms associated with the disease. There is neither a vaccine nor recommended drug available to prevent Chagas disease.
Chagas disease is locally transmitted in Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Those people who sleep in poorly constructed houses found in the rural areas of the above-mentioned countries are at elevated risk of infection. Houses constructed from mud, adobe, or thatch present the greatest risk. Travelers planning to stay in hotels, resorts, or other well-constructed housing facilities are NOT at high risk for contracting Chagas disease from reduviid bugs.
Last Editorial Review: 8/28/2013
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