Information for Patients
What is Chagas disease?
Chagas disease, or American trypanosomiasis, is an illness that can cause serious heart and stomach problems. It is caused by a parasite. Chagas disease is common in Latin America, especially in poor, rural areas. It can also be found in the United States, most often in people who were infected before they moved to the U.S.
What causes Chagas disease?
Chagas disease is caused by the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite. It is usually spread by infected blood-sucking bugs called triatomine bugs. They are also known as "kissing bugs" because they often bite people's faces. When of these bugs bites you, it leaves behind infected waste. You can become infected if you rub the waste in your eyes or nose, the bite wound, or a cut.
Chagas disease can also spread through contaminated food, a blood transfusion, a donated organ, or from mother to baby during pregnancy.
Who is at risk for Chagas disease?
Kissing bugs can be found throughout the Americas, but they are more common in certain areas. The people who are most at risk for Chagas disease
- Live in rural areas of Latin America
- Have seen the bugs, especially in those areas
- Have stayed in a house with a thatched roof or with walls that have cracks or crevices
What are the symptoms of Chagas disease?
In the beginning, there may be no symptoms. Some people do get mild symptoms, such as
- Body aches
- Loss of appetite
- A rash
- A swollen eyelid
These early symptoms usually go away. However, if you don't treat the infection, it stays in your body. Later, it can cause serious intestinal and heart problems such as
- An irregular heartbeat that can cause sudden death
- An enlarged heart that doesn't pump blood well
- Problems with digestion and bowel movements
- An increased chance of having a stroke
How is Chagas disease diagnosed?
A physical exam and blood tests can diagnose it. You may also need tests to see whether the disease has affected your intestines and heart.
What are the treatments for Chagas disease?
Medicines can kill the parasite, especially early on. You can also treat related problems. For example, a pacemaker helps with some heart complications.
Can Chagas disease be prevented?
There are no vaccines or medicines to prevent Chagas disease. If you travel to areas where it occurs, you are at higher risk if you sleep outdoors or are staying in poor housing conditions. It is important to use insecticides to prevent bites and practice food safety.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention