Chagas disease is an infection caused by the protozoa Trypanosoma cruzi. The infection is spread by the bite of the kissing bug. The condition is known to occur in the rural areas of several developing countries all over the globe. These areas provide the ideal environment for the kissing bugs that transmit the disease. The kissing bug also thrives in crevices or cracks in mud walls, farm buildings, thatched roofing, rock or wood piles, dog kennels and chicken coops.
What are the symptoms?
Chagas disease has 3 phases that you should be familiar with. The symptoms can manifest in the 1st and 3rd stages.
The symptoms typically start 1-2 weeks after the protozoa has entered the body, usually via a bite wound or tissues surrounding the eyes. A red, swollen bump can develop at the bite site.
In case the protozoan entered via the tissues around the eyes, the area surrounding the eyes might swell. Fever might also develop. In some individuals, there are no symptoms but the protozoa are present in the blood.
The symptoms of Chagas disease might subside on their own. Nevertheless, there have been a few deaths reported during this stage. Death usually results from a severe infection of the heart muscle which results to heart failure or due to infection of the brain and tissues covering the brain and spinal cord.
If an individual has a weakened immune system, this phase can be severe. The individual might have a severe rash or even brain abscesses in rare cases.
The individual has no symptoms of Chagas disease and the results of the imaging tests and ECG are normal. Nevertheless, the protozoa can be identified in the blood. In most cases, they remain in this stage without any symptoms.
After a few years, chronic infection develops in 20-40% of cases and affects the heart and digestive system.
The heart is weak and enlarged which leads to shortness of breath and tiredness. The electrical system of the heart might also be affected which results to fainting or sudden cardiac arrest.
The muscles of the digestive tract might malfunction, causing difficulty swallowing and/or severe constipation. In case swallowing is difficult, the individual might breathe in food, saliva or fluids, resulting to pneumonia or becoming significantly undernourished. In addition, the large intestine might enlarge.
The risk of acquiring Chagas disease is to reduce the number of kissing bugs in the surroundings. This can be achieved by replacing thatched roofs, plastering walls and/or repeatedly spraying the house with insecticides that have long-lasting effect.
In rare occasions, those who travel to areas where the kissing bugs are present can become infected. The infection can be avoided by using bed nets when staying in adobe houses.