Chagas disease is caused by the parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi. Also called American Trypanosomiasis, it is an inflammatory and an infectious disease. Its parasite is present in the feces of Triatomine bug. Triatomine bugs are commonly found in Central America, Mexico, and South America. Very few cases of the Chagas disease are reported in the southern United States.
The parasite, Trypanosoma can infect anyone. If the Chagas disease is left untreated, it can, later on, cause different serious issues related to heart and digestive system. The treatment in acute infections focuses on killing the parasite. Symptoms and signs are controlled in the later stages.
Chagas disease can either cause a sudden brief acute illness or may cause a long-lasting chronic condition. Many people do not experience any of the symptoms until they reach the chronic stage. Symptoms may range from mild to severe.
The acute phase of the Chagas disease is known to be symptom-free. It usually lasts for weeks or months. If in case the symptoms may appear, they are mild. The symptoms may include:
• Body aches
• Diarrhea or vomiting
• Swelling of the infected area
• Loss of appetite
• Swollen glands
• Eyelid swelling
• Enlargement of liver and spleen
• A headache
The signs and symptoms developing during the acute phase usually go away on their own. But in some cases, if it is left untreated, the infection may persist and may lead you to the chronic stage.
The signs and symptoms of the chronic stage may appear after 10 to 20 years of the initial infection. Or, sometimes in Chagas disease symptoms may never appear. The signs and symptoms of the chronic phase of the Chagas disease include:
• A sudden cardiac arrest
• Irregular heart beating
• Extreme abdominal pain
• Congestive heart failure
• Constipation because of an enlarged colon
• An enlarged esophagus
• Difficulty in swallowing
When Should You Consult a Doctor?
Make an appointment with a doctor when you have recently visited a place where there is a high risk of getting Chagas disease. If one is developing the signs and symptoms of the Chagas disease like nausea, fatigue, rash and body aches he should urgently contact the doctor.
The one and the only cause of getting Chagas disease is the parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi. The vector transmitting this parasite is known as Triatomine bug. These bugs are infected when they suck blood from an animal who is already infected by the parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi.
Triatomine bugs are usually found in mud, adobe huts and thatch in South America, Central America, and Mexico. During the daytime, they hide in crevices in the walls and roofs. They come out at night to mainly feed upon the sleeping humans.
The infected bugs egest after feeding, leaving behind the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi on the skin. Now the parasite can enter your body through mouth, nose, eyes, a cut or by a wound from the Triatomine bug.
One can also become infected by:
• Having food which is uncooked and contaminated by the feces of Triatomine bug.
• An organ transplant which contains viable Trypanosoma cruzi.
• Being born by a woman who is already infected by the parasite.
• Doing work in a laboratory where he gets an accidental exposure to Trypanosoma cruzi.
• Having infected blood transfusion.
• Spending their time in the forest where there are infected wild animals like Raccoons and Opossums.
The factors which can increase your chances of getting Chagas disease are:
• Living in the rural areas of Mexico, Central America and South America where they are facing poverty plus hunger.
• Having blood transfusion or an organ transplant by an infected person.
• Living in a place where there are Triatomine bugs.
Its very rare that travelers in South America, Central America, and Mexico get the Chagas disease as most of them live in well-constructed buildings like hotels. Triatomine bugs are found in structures which are poorly built with mud, thatch, and adobe.
If the Chagas disease is left untreated it may cause one serious problem. It will lead to chronic stage causing severe heart or digestive complications. The complications may include:
• Colon increases in size (megacolon): The colon abnormally increases in size causing distention, constipation and severe abdominal pain.
• Heart failure: One gets heart failure when his heart loses its ability to pump blood efficiently through out the body.
• Dilation of the esophagus (megaesophagus): This is one of the rare condition in which the esophagus becomes enlarged. This causes difficulty in swallowing and digestion.
There are two therapies to treat Chagas disease, both of them are life-saving. Anti-parasitic treatment is used to kill the parasite while symptomatic treatment is used to control the signs and symptoms of infection.
The anti-parasitic treatment produces an efficient result when it is used early in the course of infection. However, it is not limited to the cases of the acute phase. In America, this treatment is available through Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Your doctor can contact CDC staff to know whether you will be needing this treatment or not. In most of the cases, people who are undergoing this treatment are not hospitalized.
This type of treatment will help those people who are experiencing problems related to heart and intestine from Chagas disease. For example, Patients going through chronic cardiac disease can have pacemakers and some medications for irregular heartbeats, this may prove to be life-saving for them.
If you are living in an area where there are many Triatomine bugs, these following measures may help you to prevent infection.
• Make use of insecticides to remove insects from your house.
• Do not sleep in houses made of mud, thatch or adobe. These residences are more prone to Triatomine bugs.
• Make use of insect repellent on the exposed skin.
• When sleeping in mud, adobe or thatch made houses remember to use insecticide-soaked netting over the bed
Other precautions which you can take are:
• Sealing out the gaps and cracks in windows, walls, and doors.
• Making use of screens on windows and doors.
• By making your pets sleep inside your house especially at night.
• To make sure that the yard lights are not close to your house as light can attract the bugs.