Chagas is a disease caused by a parasite known as Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted to humans and animals by insect bites. It’s mainly found in America, specifically Latin America. According to the World Health Organization, over 6 million people worldwide are infected with this parasite. The infection is curable if treatment is initiated quickly, but if left untreated it can cause cardiac problems, as well as digestive and neurological issues.
Chagas disease is known as a silent killer because both phases of this disease can be free of symptoms, and life-threatening. The first phase of Chagas is the acute phase, which occurs during the first weeks and months of infection. This phase can be unnoticed because if symptoms do occur they are usually mild and can be easily dismissed. These symptoms include fatigue, headaches, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Physical symptoms can include mild swelling of the liver and spleen, swollen glands, and swelling where the bite occurred.
The next phase is the chronic phase, wherein the infection can remain dormant for decades. This is the phase in which cardiovascular and/or intestinal problems can occur, which can be potentially fatal. If you believe you’re infected with Chagas disease, it’s important to visit your healthcare professional as soon as possible. Chagas disease can be transmitted by consumption of contaminated food, so it’s important to practice proper hygiene methods.
Two avenues of treatment are available to treat Chagas. These are anti-parasitic treatment, which involves medication to kill the parasite, and symptomatic treatment, which focuses on the intestinal and cardiovascular problems that can occur during the chronic phase. There are no vaccines available currently to prevent Chagas disease, so those at risk should use bed netting, protective clothing and insect repellent to avoid infection.