Everything You Want to Know About Chagas Disease (Kissing Bug Disease)

What is Chagas disease?

The Chagas disease is likewise known as American trypanosomiasis, and it is an infectious disease caused by the transmission of Trypanosoma cruzi through insects known as kissing bugs (triatomine) primarily. It is more common in Mexico, Central America, and South America. 

Chagas disease is a rare disorder in comparison to other infectious diseases. Still, in 2017, it was estimated to occur in about 6 million people, and about 7,900 people died in 2017 from Chagas disease.

How do people get Chagas disease?

  • Through The Bite Of Kissing Bugs: Kissing bugs get infected with Trypanosoma cruzi by biting an infected animal or person. Once infected, the bugs can pass out the parasite in their feces. Kissing bugs are usually found in mud, palm thatch, bedsheets, walls, roofs, floors, and holes in the bed. At night when the people in the house infected with kissing bugs are sleeping, the bugs come out and bite the individuals. The bites are mostly on the face of the person. The bugs bite the person and then suck their blood, while doing that, the bug passes their feces containing the parasite onto the person’s face. The parasite can be transmitted into the body through the mucous membrane (inhalation is possible if the parasite is closed to the nose, orally, rubbed into the eyes by the person). Or the parasite break into the skin when the person who has been bitten by a kissing bug cut their face while scratching themselves.
  • Through Organ transplantation
  • Through blood transfusions
  • Transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy
  • Eating undercooked food that is contaminated with triatomine bug’s feces

What are the symptoms of Chagas disease in humans?

The manifestations of Chagas disease can vary from no signs at all to critical and grievous symptoms, and there are two phases of the Chagas disease: the acute phase and the chronic phase.

Here are the signs and symptoms of Chagas disease:

Acute phase (occur between 4 to 8 weeks):

  • High body temperature (fever)
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Headaches
  • Swelling at the site of the bite
  • Romana’s sign (swelling of the eyelids)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Enlarge spleen (splenomegaly)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hepatomegaly (enlarge liver)
  • Skin rash

Chronic phase (begins after 8 weeks):

There are usually no symptoms in the chronic phase in about 70% of cases. In the other 30% of cases, signs typically result from severe damage of the heart that leads to heart failure, nerve damage, and gastrointestinal tract (enlarged esophagus or enlarged colon).

Diagnosis Of Chagas Disease:

  • Blood smears analysis (microscopic visualization of Trypanosoma cruzi).
  • Serology: reveal antibodies of Trypanosoma cruzi. 
  • Polymerase chain reaction: detect DNA of Trypanosoma cruzi.

Treatment of Chagas disease:

  • Antiparasitic medications (used to kill the parasites).
  • Benznidazole is the first line of treatment.
  • Nifurtimox.
  • Symptomatic treatment (treat symptoms accordingly): such as pacemaker to manage abnormal heart electric problems.

Prevention Of Chagas Disease:

Chagas disease can be prevented by:

  • Avoiding been bitten by the kissing bugs with Insecticide or bed nets
  • Proper screening of blood before transfusion. 
  • Infected mothers can breastfeed their babies, but if there is kissing bug bite around the nipples or breast, breastfeeding is contraindicated. So to prevent transmitting the parasite to their babies, mothers are asked to bottle feed their babies instead.

For more information about Chagas disease, you should talk to your physician.