Chagas Disease

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Also called American trypanosomiasis, the Chagas disease is an infectious illness caused by the Trypanosoma cruzi, a parasitic protozoan, which is transmitted by a hematophagus insect of the Reduviidae family. These blood-sucking insects, commonly called assassin bugs or kissing bugs, which act as vector of Chagas disease are scientifically identified as: Rhodnius prolixus, Triatoma infestans, and Panstrongylus geniculatus, which are found in Brasil, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.

American trypanosomiasis is a chronic disease which can be divided into three phases: 1) an acute phase, which lasts about 40 days and is characterized by fever, fatigue, headache, swollen eye, and mild inflammation of spleen and liver; 2) a middle phase, that spans a long period of approximately 15 years, without symptoms but, meanwhile, the protozoan is multiplying in different organs, especially in the heart muscle fibers; 3) the last phase, in which the parasite begins to attack the organs in which the protozoa are deeply ingrained. During the third and final phase of the Chagas disease, there is chest pain, difficulties in swallowing, heart failure, blood clots, and a sudden heart attack which causes the death of the patient.

Treatment is effective only 50%, since the protozoa that made it into the heart can not be removed. So, it is important to avoid being bitten by the insect through prevention. Use insecticide and avoid living in adobe dwellings with thatched roofs, since the kissing bug lives in tiny cracks and holes of unplastered adobe walls and in-between the stalks and leaves of the thatch (straw or reeds). During the day, the insect stays hidden in every nook and cranny it can find, but comes out during the night for blood-sucking, dropping down from the roof on sleeping peasants. So, it is very important to plaster ceilings and walls with mortar (lime and sand) and use industrial pesticides to eradicate them from the dwelling and surrounding areas.