Chagas Disease Facts
Chagas disease, named for the Brazilian who discovered it, is a parasitic disease caused by the protozoan, Trypanosoma cruzi. The parasite is most frequently transmitted by reduviid bugs, also called kissing bugs (U.S.), chinches (Central America), and many other names elsewhere. The bugs transmit the parasite in their feces by defecating on the skin while they are feeding. The person then becomes infected when they scratch the parasite-contaminated feces into the bite wound or the eyes, nose or mouth.
For most people the initial symptoms are mild and easily confused with other illness, e.g. swelling of the eyelid (Romanas sign) if the parasite entered via the eye, or a swollen nodule if it enters elsewhere, and headache and fever. The parasite leaves the bloodstream and enters many different cell types but especially heart muscle cells. Here it replicates and in ~30% of infected people damages the heart muscle so that after 10, 20 or even 30 years, the person may require a pacemaker, and will likely die of heart failure. Most don't even know they were infected.
Although most transmission is via kissing bugs, the parasite can also be transmitted from mother to baby, by contaminated food or drink, by blood transfusion or organ transplantation, and by laboratory accidents. Like most diseases carried by insects, the best way to combat this disease is to stop transmission by the bug. Our project aims to provide Ministries of Health and others combating this disease with clear, evidence-based information on what contributes to increased risk of transmission so they can better focus the control efforts.