Updated April 14th, 2024 at 23:29 IST

What Is Chagas Disease Caused By 'Kissing Bugs'? Symptoms And Prevention

Chagas disease is dubbed the "silent and silenced disease" due to its asymptomatic or mild initial stage, leading to delayed diagnosis and awareness.

Chagas Disease | Image:Pexels
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Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, poses a significant health risk, with April 14 marking World Chagas Disease Day to raise awareness about this often-overlooked illness. Named after Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas, who discovered it in 1909, the disease is caused by the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite. It is mainly transmitted by triatomine bugs, also known as "kissing bugs." However, it can also spread through blood transfusions, organ transplants, congenital transmission, or contaminated food and beverages.

Image credit: Unsplash
Image credit: Unsplash

Stages of chagas disease

The disease progresses through two stages: acute and chronic. The acute stage, occurring shortly after infection, often shows mild or no symptoms, making diagnosis challenging. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, body aches, and swelling at the infection site. If untreated, the chronic stage can lead to severe complications such as cardiomyopathy and gastrointestinal issues, appearing years or decades later.

Chagas disease is dubbed the "silent and silenced disease" due to its asymptomatic or mild initial stage, leading to delayed diagnosis and awareness. Despite its impact, the disease has historically received limited attention and funding, particularly in endemic regions. This lack of focus has resulted in gaps in surveillance, diagnosis, and treatment.

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Diagnosing Chagas disease involves serological tests to detect antibodies and molecular techniques to identify the parasite's DNA. Early detection is crucial for effective treatment. Benznidazole or nifurtimox are the primary medications used, but they are most effective in the early stages of infection.

Endemic to Latin America, Chagas disease affects an estimated 6–7 million people worldwide, mainly in rural areas as per a WHO report. However, increased migration and globalisation have spread the disease to non-endemic regions, emphasising the need for global awareness and action. Preventative measures include vector control to reduce bug bites, improved housing conditions, and community-based surveillance programmes.

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World Chagas Disease Day focuses as a reminder of the importance of early detection, treatment, and prevention efforts to combat this often-overlooked global health threat.

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Published April 14th, 2024 at 23:29 IST