Chagas disease is a parasitic condition sometimes called American trypanosomiasis. The disease is most prevalent in children who live in Mexico, Central America and South America, where the reduviid bug is indigenous. The parasite that causes Chagas disease is found in the feces of the bug. During the daytime, the bug hides in crevices of adobe homes and other structures made of mud and straw. After dark, the bugs seek out humans and bites them.
Chagas disease has serious consequences if it is left untreated. The disease can cause major problems with the victim’s digestive system and heart. In the early stages of infection, victims experience mild symptoms such as a skin rash and swelling at the infection site, swollen glands, nausea, diarrhea or vomiting, headache and loss of appetite. These symptoms usually subside; however, the parasite is still causing damage. Some 10 to 20 years after infection, victims suffer symptoms such as irregular heartbeat, congestive heart failure, enlarged esophagus, and abdominal pain.
The reduviid bug transmits Chagas disease when it bites humans, usually at night while humans are asleep in bed. The bug defecates after it bites, depositing feces into the skin. Parasites can enter through a cut, scratch or mucous membranes in the eyes or nose. Infection can also occur from eating uncooked, contaminated food, receiving infected blood, or living with an infected pet. The disease can also be transmitted in utero, from a pregnant woman to her unborn child.
Management and Treatment
Treating Chagas disease is relatively easy during the early phase of the disease. Prescription medications such as benznidazole and nifurtimox are usually successful. In the United States, these drugs are available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as the reduviid bug is unknown in the U.S. In later stages of the disease, however, medication has limited effects. Heart conditions may be treated with a pacemaker, surgery, or even a heart transplant. Digestive conditions may be treated with specially modified diets, corticosteroids, or surgery.
The best way to avoid complications from Chagas Disease is not to get it in the first place. The Mayo Clinic advises travelers to Latin America to avoid sleeping in a mud, thatch, or adobe house where the reduviid bugs are likely to live and be active. Mosquito netting soaked in insecticide should be draped over sleeping areas inside these types of homes.
Mayo Clinic: Chagas Disease.