Chagas Disease or the Silent Killer.
The idea behind this article is to create awareness for the Chagas Disease. I have to thank my father, who saw a documentary on television about it recently. Truth is, after seven years in Argentina, I did not know that it existed. How many travel to South America, get infected and never know that they could be carrying the disease.
What is Chagas disease and why is it called the “Silent Killer”?
Chagas disease is caused by a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi that is transmitted to humans and animals from the feces of the Triatomine bug. They are nocturnal and feed from the blood of humans and animals. Feces enter the bloodstream of the victim through the bite mark and may reach organs including the heart. They are called “Kissing Bugs” because they tend to feed of the faces of their victims.
It is called the “Silent Killer” because many people who carry the disease are not even aware of it. It is estimated that 30- 40% of people develop symptoms ranging from acute to chronic. It could be fatal in some cases and there is no cure for adults. Chagas disease was first diagnosed in 1909 in Brazil but have been around for more than 9,000 years. Parasites were found in the remains of mummies from the ancient Chinchorro culture of South America.
How is the disease transmitted?
- Organ transplantation;
- Blood transfusion;
- From pregnant mother to her baby.
Chagas disease symptoms and signs.
There are two phases ranging from acute to chronic. The phases could be symptom free or life threatening. The acute phase of the Chagas disease could last for several weeks or even months after being infected. Most of the time it goes unnoticed with mild or even no symptoms. Fatality during the acute phase is very rare and young children or people with a weak immune system are mostly at risk during this stage.
Symptoms could be dormant for many years during the chronic phase of the disease. As mentioned previously, 30- 40% of people develop life threatening complications during this phase.
- Cardiac complications include an enlarged heart, heart failure , change in the rhythm of the heart or cardiac arrest.
- Intestinal complication include an enlarged esophagus or colon.
Common known Chagas disease symptoms include:
- Vomiting, rash, swollen lymph nodes, fever, head and body aches, fatigue, nausea and diarrhea.
How to prevent Chagas when travelling to Latin America?
It is important to note that no drugs or vaccines are currently available. If you are sleeping in-doors, in hotels or well constructed buildings, then you are at low risk. The problem is when you go to rural areas, poor quality dwellings or infested areas. Remember, these bugs are mostly active at night. Apply insect repellent, wear protective clothing, spray the room with a residual-action insecticide and use bed nets that are treated with long-lasting insecticides. Consult your doctor immediately if you have been in contact with the bug or if you develop a fever or notice any bite marks close to your mouth or eye.
More information about Chagas Disease can be found on the official site of the World Health Organization.