Chagas Disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. The parasite is transmitted to animals and humans through insects and is found only in the Americas, predominantly in rural areas of Latin America. Currently there are roughly 6 to 7 million people infected with Chagas disease, mostly in Latin America (CDC, 2010). The disease presents itself in two separate phases. First, there is an acute phase that lasts for two months. During this phase, the parasites are circulating through the blood, but no serious symptoms are present yet. There might be swelling of the eyelids or skin lesions in some people during the acute phase. After the acute phase comes the chronic phase. During this phase, the parasites have moved to the heart and digestive muscles. Some people encounter cardiac and/or digestive issues as a result. As the disease progresses, many die from cardiac failure or sudden death from the nervous system shutting down (WHO, 2016).
Currently, there are two drugs available to treat the disease, benznidazole and nifurtimox. Both of these drugs are very effective when treating acute stage Chagas, but less so during chronic stage (Montgomery et al., 2014). Chagas disease is now spreading beyond rural areas and into non-endemic regions, creating a serious public health issue (Fig. 1). Early detection and treatment of asymptomatic patients are rarely practiced (Rassi, 2010).
The parasite is transmitted by the triatomine bug. This insect will usually live in walls are roofs where there are cracks. The bugs feed of of human blood and are most active at night. They usually bite a very exposed part of the body, mainly the face, and then the bug defecates by the bite, infecting the person with the parasite (WHO, 2016). The life cycle of the triatomine bug and the transmission of Chagas Disease can be seen in Fig. 2. The WHO also suggests that those who are at a higher risk for contracting the disease should take precautions such as spraying cracks in the home with insecticides, improving overall condition of home, using bednets, good hygiene, and screening during blood transfusions, organ donations, and pregnant women and newborns. By taking these preventative measures, a reduction in transmission can occur, and those who are infected and are screened can get treatment, which will be more effective during the acute stage.
Figure 1: Areas affected by Chagas Disease
Figure 2: Transmission and Life Cycle
Montgomery*, Susan P., Michelle C. Starr, Paul T. Cantey, and Morven S. Edwards. “Neglected Parasitic Infections in the United States: Chagas Disease.” Neglected Parasitic Infections in the United States: Chagas Disease. He American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 16 Feb. 2014. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
“Chagas Disease.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization, Mar. 2016. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
“Prevention & Control.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 02 Nov. 2010. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
Rassi, Anis, Jr., and Jose Antonio Marin-Neto. “Chagas Disease.” The Lancet. N.p., 17 Apr. 2010. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
El-Sayed, Najib M., and Peter J. Myler. “The Genome Sequence of Trypanosoma Cruzi, Etiologic Agent of Chagas Disease.” Science. N.p., 15 July 2005. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.