Early symptoms of Chagas disease

chagas disease

The early symptoms of Chagas disease occur during the acute phase of the infection. The most common sign of this condition is known as Romaña's sign – a purplish swelling of the eyelids on the side of the face close to the wound where the bug that carries the parasite the causes the disease bit the person. The insect itself – called a triatomine bug – does not directly transmit the disease through its bite. What it does is defecate near the wound shortly after feeding; the person might be the one to actually introduce the parasite-containing feces by scratching the general area of the face. Still, the bite is sort of like the X that marks the spot.

However, transmission can take place by other means (contaminated food, transfusions, congenital transmission, organ transplant, lab accidents), which is why it is important to detect the early signs of Chagas disease, including:

·         Swelling at the site of infection.

·         Fever.

·         Fatigue.

·         Rash.

·         Body aches.

·         Headache.

·         Appetite loss.

·         Nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting.

·         Swollen lymph glands.

·         Pallor.

·         Muscle pain.

·         Breathing difficulty.

·         Abdominal or chest pain.

·         Enlarged liver or spleen.

The acute phase can last for approximately 2 months following infection, after which they may disappear without treatment. Notwithstanding that, the infection may remain dormant for decades only to resurface in what is called the chronic phase. Conversely, Chagas disease is curable if diagnosed early and when treatment is started shortly after infection. The following tests are used to diagnose the condition:

·         Electrocardiogram.

·         Echocardiogram.

·         Chest X-ray.

·         Abdominal X-ray.

·         Upper endoscopy.

 Treatment during the acute phase of the disease consists of the drugs benznidazole and nifurtimox, both of which are close to 100% effective when administered shortly after infection at the onset of the acute phase – though their effectiveness decreases if the patient has been infected for long. Pregnant women and people with kidney or liver failure should not take these drugs. Benznidazole and nifurtimox are only available through the CDC in the United States. This is because cases of Chagas disease are rare in American soil; most of the people in the U.S. with Chagas were infected in areas where this malady is endemic, such as Mexico, and Central and South America. Even people who travel to those areas are at low risk of infection as long as they sleep in well-built, air-conditioned, screened rooms.

Latin American Countries where Chagas disease is endemic

·         Argentina

·         Belize

·         Bolivia

·         Brazil

·         Chile

·         Colombia

·         Costa Rica

·         Ecuador

·         El Salvador

·         French Guyana

·         Guatemala

·         Guyana

·         Honduras

·         Mexico

·         Nicaragua

·         Panama

·         Paraguay

·         Peru

·         Suriname

·         Venezuela

·         Uruguay

The insects that carry the parasite that causes Chagas disease – the parasite is called Trypanosoma cruzi; the insects are known as ‘kissing bugs’ because of their tendency to bite near the lips – usually live in poorly-constructed homes in impoverished rural or suburban hours. The bugs hide in cracks and crevices and come out at night to feed on the blood of the sleeping dwellers of the home. Though Chagas was once limited to the Region of the Americas – especially Latin America – migratory population between Latin America and the rest of the world has contributed to an increase incidence in the United States of America, Canada, many European and some Western Pacific countries.

If you live in or plan to travel to a high-risk area, keep these preventive measures in mind to avoid the early symptoms of Chagas disease:

·         Do not sleep in mud, thatch, or adobe houses.

·         Use an insecticide-soaked net over the bed.

·         Spray insecticide inside the house.

·         Apply insect repellent on exposed skin.