Chagas Disease – Symptoms, Treatment, Pictures

Chagas disease is an infectious and inflammatory condition that is caused due to a parasite present in the fecal material of the reduviid or triatomine insect. The triatomine insect is primarily found in Central America, South America and Mexico and hence Chagas disease commonly occurs in these regions. A few instances of Chagas disease has been reported in the southern states of US as well. The disease is also known as American trypanosomiasis.

Chagas disease can occur in people of all ages, but generally tends to affect children. Untreated cases of Chagas disease can result in long term complications of the cardiac and digestive systems. Acute infection cases of Chagas disease are treated by destroying the parasite, whereas treatment of the later stages of the condition is focused at managing and alleviating the signs and symptoms. It is also possible to preventive steps to avoid the infection.

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Symptoms of Chagas disease

Chagas disease can be classified as chronic or acute. The signs and symptoms of Chagas disease vary from mild to serious. However, it is possible for some affected people to not experience the symptoms until the chronic phase of the disease.

The acute stage: This stage of Chagas disease can last for many weeks or months and generally may not elicit any symptoms. When the symptoms are visible, then they usually tend to be mild and include the following:

  • Fever
  • The infected area may experience swelling or inflammation
  • Fatigue
  • The glands may become swollen
  • Body aches
  • Rash
  • Diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
  • Headache
  • The spleen or liver may become enlarged
  • Loss or lack of appetite

Such symptoms generally tend to disappear on their own. However, when the acute phase of Chagas disease is left untreated, then the disease tends to persist and can progress to the chronic stage.

The chronic stage: The symptoms of this phase generally tend to make an appearance ten to twenty years after the first infection; or the signs may not occur at all. The serious cases of Chagas disease may elicit the following symptoms:

  • The heartbeat may become irregular
  • Congestive cardiac failure: This complication can result in increased weakening of the heart, so as to diminish its ability to pump enough blood to meet the body’s requirements.
  • The heart may experience enlargement or inflammation
  • Abrupt heart attack
  • The colon may become enlarged causing, distention, severe constipation and/or pain in the abdomen: Megacolon is a common complication of chronic Chagas disease
  • An enlarged esophagus may result in swallowing and digestion difficulties: This complication of Chagas disease is rare and results from dilation or widening of the esophagus

Causes of Chagas disease

Chagas disease is caused by a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi, which gets transmitted to humans via the bite of the triatomine bug. Such insects can get infected by the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite, when they suck in the blood of an animal that is a carrier of the parasite.

The triatomine insects can be found living in the thatch, mud or adobe huts in South America, Mexico and Central America. The bugs hide in the cracks present in the walls or the roof during day time and come out during the night to suck the blood of sleeping human beings.

The bite of the infected insect on a human, results in the transfer of the Trypanosoma cruzi parasites to the victim’s skin. This allows the parasites to enter the body of the victim via the mouth, eyes, a scratch or cut, or through the wound left by the bug bite. Rubbing or scratching the site of the insect bite can also aid the entry of the parasites into the body. Once the parasites have successfully entered into the body, they tend to multiply and spread to various parts of the body.

Some of the other ways to get infected by the Trypanosoma cruzi parasites are listed below:

  • The intake of raw food that is contaminated with the feces of the infected insects
  • Getting a blood transfusion of infected blood
  • A mother infected by Chagas disease can pass it on to her newborn
  • Being the recipient of an organ that is infected by the parasite
  • Prolonged visits to forested areas that are home to infected animals like opossums and raccoons, etc.
  • Unintentional exposure to the parasite at a lab
  • Spending time with a pet that is infected

Treatment of Chagas disease

  • The treatment for Chagas disease is aimed at killing the parasite and alleviating and managing the signs and symptoms
  • The acute stage of Chagas disease is treated via prescription drugs such as nifurtimox and benznidazole, which are widely available in the Latin countries. The drugs can be obtained from the CDC in the United States.
  • The chronic stage of Chagas disease cannot be cured. The treatment focuses on reducing the specific symptoms as per the individual cases.
  • Surgery, heart transplant, use of pacemaker, etc. are some of the ways to treat heart abnormalities caused by chronic stage Chagas disease
  • Corticosteroid medication, diet changes and even surgery may be used to treat complications of the digestive system.

Chagas Disease Pictures

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