by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Chagas disease is a potentially life threatening tropical illness that is caused by a parasite that is found on an insect known as the “kissing bug”. The estimates are that there are at least 10 million people worldwide, with at least 1 million in the US infected with Chagas disease. It also kills approximately 20,000 people every year worldwide. Chagas disease is one of the most neglected tropical diseases in the Caribbean and Latin America. Recently Chagas disease has been named the new “AIDS of the America’s”. The main reason is because of the similarities between the early years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the current spread of Chagas disease. For example, both diseases affect living in poverty significantly more than those not in poverty. Treatment is incredibly expensive and therefore not available to those that need it, and both diseases are chronic conditions. In Chagas disease the parasites get into the cells in our body and multiply causing the cells to burst. When the cells burst the parasites are then released into the bloodstream.
Chagas disease is one of the most under reported and under treated tropical diseases. One of the reasons is that the disease can go undetected for years after infection. Even though it goes unnoticed it can still cause damage which is what makes it so deadly. There are two phases to Chagas disease, acute and chronic. The acute phase can last anywhere from weeks to months after being infected. A person that has been infected may have mild symptoms like a fever, head and body aches, fatigue as well as gastrointestinal symptoms. Since these are also symptoms of numerous other common illnesses many people disregard them and then the symptoms resolve themselves and are forgotten but the infection remains. When the disease reaches the chronic stage the symptoms are those associated with cardiac disease, as well as severe digestive and neurological symptoms.
Chagas disease can be cured, but only if treated in the early stages of the infection. There are currently two medications that are approved by the FDA in the US for use in treating Chagas disease, both must be obtained through the CDC, they are benzindazole and nifurtimox. Both are considered 100% effective in curing Chagas disease iftreatment begins early in the disease. People that have been infected but in a remission phase should be treated if the disease becomes reactive. Treatment is an expensive and long process, as long as two months and the medications have numerous side effects including, severe headaches and dizziness, sleep disturbances, neuropathy as well as weight loss and loss of appetite.
Prevention of Chagas disease is focused of the use of insecticide to kill the bugs that carry the parasite, improving housing conditions and the use of insect nets on beds.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.