What is Chagas Disease and What Causes It

Chagas disease is  named after the Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas, following the identification and description of the pathophysiology of the disease in 1909. This disease, also known as, American trypanosomiasis, is mostly found in Americas.

This article will explore,

1. What is Chagas Disease?
     – What is Triatomine bug

2. What Causes Chagas Disease?
     – Who are at High Risk of Chagas Disease

3. What are the Symptoms of Chagas Disease
     – Mild Symptoms
     – Long-lasting Symptoms

4. How to Diagnose Chagas Disease

What is Chagas Disease

Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, is an inflammatory condition caused by a parasitic organism known as Trypanosoma cruzi. This  condition is caused by the transmission of the parasite to animals and people by bites of insect vectors known to be found only in rural areas of the United States of America.

What is Triatomine bug

Triatomine bug is the carrier of the Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes Chagas disease in humans. Triatomine bugs get infected by Trypanosoma cruzi when they suck blood from species that are already affected by the parasites.

Triatomine bugs lie in mud, hay, between cracks in the walls or roof of the house. They come out during the night times and bite human when they are asleep. When the bitten site is scratched or rubbed, parasites enter into the human body and multiply. Trypanosoma cruzi can enter into the body through a small hole or any open organs of the body – a cut, mouth, eyes or ears.

What Causes Chagas Disease

Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease, can enter directly into the body when Triatomine bug bites a person. There are also other ways for this parasite to enter into the human body.

  • A baby delivered by a mother who is affected by parasites might be affected by the disease.
  • Consuming raw foods that are affected by parasites would enable the pest to directly mix in the body.
  • Blood donated by a person who is affected by the bug will transmit the person to whom it is injected.
  • A person who is transplanted with an organ from a donator affected by the pest will also get impacted.
  • Hanging with a pet that contains the bug in its body is another risk
  • The forest explorers are also prone to Triatomine bugs.
    What is Chagas Disease and What Causes It

    Photomicrograph of Giemsa-stained Trypanosoma cruzi

Who are at High Risk of Chagas Disease

People living in any part of the world can get affected with Chagas disease. However, Triatomine bugs and Trypanosoma cruzi are commonly found in rural areas of the American continent, especially in Mexico, South America, Latin America, and Central America. The dwellers in the rural areas living in houses made of mud or clay are at a higher risk of Chagas disease.

However, pest control measures undertaken by the health authorities have reduced Chagas disease to a greater extent today. It should also be mentioned that the foreign travellers are not exposed to risk as they stay in well-maintained hotels.

A person bit by this insect may not necessarily show the symptoms immediately, but they may show symptoms 10-20 years after getting affected; it results in severe digestive problems and cardiovascular diseases.

What are the Symptoms of Chagas Disease 

The early symptoms of Chagas disease might be mild or long-lasting.

Mild symptoms include

  • Skin allergy or rash
  • Swelling in the affected area
  • Fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Fever together with body pain or headache
  • Swollen glands
  • Lost appetite and digestive issues

Long-lasting symptoms include

  • Inflammation of the spleen or liver
  • Enlarged colon resulting in difficulties in constipation
  • Irregular heartbeat or sudden heart attacks

How to Diagnose Chagas disease

The diagnosis of this condition is usually made by obtaining a complete history from the suspected patient which is usually followed by pathological observation of the parasite in a blood smear through a direct microscopic examination. The typical examination consists of observing a thick and thin blood smear which will then be stained for a proper visualization of parasites. The major disadvantage of this modality of diagnosis is the fact that this blood smear is known to be useful only in the acute phase of the infection when parasites are circulating all over the body through blood. Moreover, the diagnosis is generally made by testing with at least two different serologic tests, as mentioned above.

Treatment of Chagas disease is based on the severity and complications; anti-parasitic drugs are recommended for all patients with acute infections, congenital infections, immune suppression and children with chronic infections.

Important: Suspected symptoms should be medically addressed immediately before cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems are affected in a life threatening manner.

Image Courtesy:

“Trypanosoma cruzi crithidia” By  CDC/Dr. Myron G. Schultz – from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library (PHIL), identification number #613.Note: (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Embogama

Embogama is a passionate freelance writer for several years. Her areas of interest include general medicine, clinical medicine, health and fitness, Ayurveda medicine, psychology, counseling and piano music