What Is Chagas Disease? Is It Curable?


In a world of billions, Chagas disease infects nearly 8 million people worldwide, especially in Latin America and Texas. It is a parasite named Trypanosoma cruzi which causes Chagas disease.

Let us now look into the causes and prevention of Chagas, but before that, you need to be aware of what this disease is all about.

Chagas disease is not a famous health hazard in America, but it has been prevalent in the country for thousands of years. The disease was first discovered in 1909 by a Brazilian physician and researcher, Ribeiro Justiniano Chagas. The disease was named after him.

Often termed as American trypanosomiasis, Chagas is a life-threatening disease, which is often found in the endemic regions of Latin American countries.

Chagas is a vector-borne disease, which gets transmitted to the human body with faeces or urine of triatomine bugs, also called the kissing bugs. This disease is principally found in the Continental part of Latin America, but now it is increasingly being detected in Canada, USA, Western Pacific countries and several parts of Europe.

What Causes Chagas Disease?

Chagas disease doesn't transmit from one person to another just like a common cold or a flu. It occurs due to the triatomine bugs also called the kissing bugs. The name is so as the bug generally bites a person on the skin surrounding the mouth or the eyes. Their stink is not very sharp, so even if you are sleeping, you won't realize the bite until the wound forms.

Chagas, however, doesn't occur due to bug biting. Instead, it is their poop. After the bug bites an animal or person, they become a carrier of T. cruzi and again when the bug bites the next time, it leaves droppings on them which can enter through the eyes, mouth or the wound caused.

There are a few others through which the disease can be transmitted. One such reason can be due to blood transfusion or organ donation from a T. cruzi-infected person. Other factors include consuming food that is infected with the parasite. Even pregnant women, infected with the disease can transmit it to their baby in the womb.

The Chagas disease occurs in two phases, with the actual initial phase lasting for 2 months after the infection. This is the acute phase of the disease where several parasites circulate in our blood, but the symptoms are usually mild or unspecified.

Nearly 50% of the people infected with Chagas only get notified about the disease when there is a skin lesion or purplish swelling of one eyelid. Besides, it is accompanied by enlarged lymph glands, fever, rash, headache, muscle pain, fatigue, difficulty in breathing, pallor, abdominal or chest pain and swelling.

You may even experience diarrhoea, vomiting and loss of appetite. However, all these symptoms may disappear after a few weeks or months. It is the children and people with lower immunity level who are in actual danger. Although the sign vanishes, the parasite can stay dormant for years or decades in the body.

If the disease enters the second phase, i.e., chronic stage, then the parasite can cause severe intestinal and cardiac problems. It is seen that 30% of infected people suffer from heart disease while 10% state digestive disorder.

The chronic phase leads to an enlarged heart, oesophagus, colon, blood clots, sudden cardiac arrest and neurological dysfunction. With such a condition, in the next few years, the chronic phase of the Chagas disease can even lead to sudden death due to progressive heart failure caused by the destruction of heart muscles and nervous system.

It is easier to treat Chagas disease in its earlier stages, but lack of symptoms often makes it difficult to detect. Once the disease is detected, a patient has to undergo a series of blood tests including the EKG test for checking heart condition.

Two most effective medicines that work best for curing Chagas are benznidazole and nifurtimox. These work best if consumed right after the infection occurs. The effectiveness of the medicine might lessen as more time passes by. It is, however, prohibited for pregnant women to consume these medicines, but infected newborns can have it. For older people, these drugs can have other side effects as well.

Treatment of Chagas via these drugs is also for those patients in whom the parasite gets reactivated after a long span. Even patients in the early stage of chronic phase can get cured. The medicines should be, however, consumed for two months. But if you have kidney or liver failure benznidazole and nifurtimox is prohibited.

Even for those with a neurological disorder, nifurtimox is forbidden. Besides these drugs, people in the chronic phase need additional digestive and cardiac ailments to be treated.

Chagas is one of the deadly diseases which can prove fatal in the long run. Although this disease has been present for decades, no vaccine for Chagas has been invented. It is best to avoid getting infected by the triatomine bug.

You might be thinking how we can identify this bug. Well, this parasite lives in straw, mud, adobe and palm thatch. So anyone staying or travelling to Latin America can avoid residing in such dwellings.

Seeing the fatal consequence of Chagas, the US blood banks from 2007 have started screening Chagas disease in blood samples, so that there is no accidental transmission of the disease.

The history of this parasite dates back 9000 years ago when the T. cruzi bug only infected wild animals. Later, this disease started spreading to humans and domestic animals. It is impossible to eradicate T.cruzi, but control measures can be taken for the infected population. WHO recommends the following measures for preventing the occurrence of Chagas.

• Use sprays in the surrounding areas and houses where T. cruzi can dwell.
• Prevent vector manifestation by keeping the surroundings and your houses clean.
• Dwellers of infected areas should use mosquito net while sleeping.
• It is imperative to maintain proper hygiene in transporting, storing, food preparation and consuming.
• Through the screening of the blood of the donor.
• Screening of the tissues and organs of cell donors and receivers.
• It is essential to test the newborns and other children of an infected mother for providing early medication.

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