Chagas Disease - Central & South America

I first heard about this romantic sounding little critter while researching information about expatriating to Chile. But when you get to the details, the romance can turn deadly. The reduviid bug aka triatomine bug is colloquially referred to as the kissing bug. But this insects "kisses" are nasty.

The insect lives in cracks in walls, especially earthen walls, and in roof thatch. Apparently the bug likes to crawl into bed with you, especially on your face. While it sucks your blood it deposits feces with a parasite. The bite itches so you scratch it.

When that happens, the parasite moves into your wound and then into your blood stream. Rubbing the feces onto mucous membrane (eyes, mouth, nose, genitals) can also give the parasite access to your blood stream.

Symptoms of Chagas Disease

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has an excellent F. A. Q. that tells us the good news and the bad news.

Chagas disease has an acute and a chronic phase. If untreated, infection is lifelong.

Acute Chagas disease occurs immediately after infection, may last up to a few weeks or months. Rarely, acute infection may result in severe inflammation of the heart muscle or the brain and lining around the brain.

Following the acute phase, most infected people enter into a prolonged asymptomatic form of disease during which few or no parasites are found in the blood. During this time, most people are unaware of their infection. Many people may remain asymptomatic for life and never develop Chagas-related symptoms.

Complications of chronic Chagas disease may include:

  • heart rhythm abnormalities that can cause sudden death
  • a dilated heart that doesn't pump blood well
  • a dilated esophagus or colon, leading to difficulties with eating or passing stool

Treatment of Chagas

From my reading, it's pretty much a mixed bag right now. Maybe a recent and severe outbreak in Brazil (about half way down the article) will spur some research.

Dr. Peter Hotez is a researcher at Baylor College of Medicine and said, "The problem is once the heart symptoms start, which is the most dreaded complication—the Chagas cardiomyopathy—the medicines no longer work very well. Problem No. 2: the medicines are extremely toxic."

One question important for expats. Will Chagas Disease make you reconsider you retirement destination?

A web site that is well worth book marking keeps track of Neglected Tropical Diseases. This is no light-weight site, but a resource supported by Bill and Melinda Gates.

PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases (eISSN 1935-2735) is the first open-access journal devoted to the world's most neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), such as elephantiasis, river blindness, leprosy, hookworm, schistosomiasis, and African sleeping sickness. The journal publishes high-quality, peer-reviewed research on all scientific, medical, and public-health aspects of these forgotten diseases affecting the world's forgotten people.