What is Chagas disease?
Chagas is a PARASITOLOGIC INFECTION from which 8 million people from over 21 Latin American countries are afflicted. It was initially thought to be an illness of rural poverty in Latin America, transmitted by an insect that lived in sub-standard housing in close proximity to its victims.
Which insects transmit this disease?
They are part of a family of insects called triatomines, WHICH ARE FOUND throughout most of Latin America and the southern United States. It is commonly called chinche (bug), insecto asasino (assassin bug), or barbeiro, or vinchuca.
It carries the parasite in its intestines, and passes the disease to humans after biting them. It is important to also be aware that the disease can be transmitted by blood donations, although most countries screen the blood donations for Chagas, and that mothers can pass the disease to their babies while they are pregnant.
What symptoms would i have if i have Chagas disease?
Most people do not remember the illness they have when they have been recently bitten by the bug, and most infected individuals are asymptomatic (have no symptoms) for their entire lives, even if infected.
About 20-30% of individuals who have Chagas disease will have problems with their hearts, many of which would also not cause symptoms. However, a small number of infected people could have chest pains, dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, stroke, or very weak hearts.
A small number of patients might have difficulty swallowing or using the bathroom because the disease can affect the gastrointestinal system.
Chagas disease can be found in almost all non-island countries in Latin America. In 2006 the World Health Association published the data on the prevalence of this infection.
If you are from the countryside, have lived in a house with mud walls that are cracked,or have been bitten by the bug, have relatives affected (particularly your mother), or have received a blood transfusion, your risk increases.
There are two medicines used for the parasite, benznidazole and nifurtimox. that likely cure the vast majority of people who have been infected recently.
In the United States, most patients with Chagas disease will have been infected for some time, and the value of treatment with the antiparasitic medication is not yet clear. Women who wish to have children should strongly consider getting treated, and any other adult patient should discuss the risks and benefits with a physician knowledgeable about Chagas disease. If your doctor has any questions, they should feel free to Contact our non-profit for guidance.
The medicine is taken for 60-90 days, and will have to visit your doctor for checkups every 2 weeks, as have the two drugs side effects.
There are BLOOD TESTS that can diagnose the illness. If you are from a country that has Chagas disease and have an abnormal electrocardiogram (ECG) or echocardiogram you should advise your doctor to test for Chagas.
If you already have an abnormality in ECG, or have heart failure and no one knows what caused it, should think about Chagas disease.
You should consult your physician to discuss the heart testing that is appropriate, including an ECG and possibly an ultrasound of the heart. Should your doctor want additional information about how to manage this disease, please have them Contact us.