In this section you will find answers to some common questions about Chagas disease. If your question is not included here, you can send it to us using the contact form and our experts will send you an answer.
Chagas disease is not always symptomatic. The disease is the result of infection with the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite and affects people who live or have lived in Latin America. Most people (up to 70%) infected with the parasite have the infection throughout their whole lives and never develop symptoms. In some people, however, the parasitic infection causes heart disease and digestive tract disorders. It is not known why certain patients develop symptoms while others do not.
Yes. In infants under 1 year of age, treatment is very effective. As the patient gets older, treatment does not kill the whole population of parasites, but it does reduce the risk of cardiac complications.
It is a specific blood test that identifies and measure antibodies against the parasite.
To get a clearer idea of whether you should be screened for Chagas disease, take the following test.
If you have Chagas disease the following advice is important:
- You should check whether the symptoms you have are due to the disease.
- Even if you have no symptoms you should have a heart check-up and repeat this assessment at least once a year.
- With the help of your doctor, you should decide whether or not treatment would be useful.
Once you have contracted Chagas disease, the important thing is to try to prevent the disease from becoming chronic. It is essential to seek medical attention immediately and start treatment as soon as possible because the drug is much more effective during the initial months following infection.
People who have been diagnosed and are in the chronic phase of the disease should focus on preventing the development of the complications associated with infection. Regular doctor's visits are recommended in such cases.
The following are a list of medical centres that offer diagnosis and treatment for Chagas disease.
There are two drugs that kill the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi: benznidazole and nifurtimox. These drugs are taken in the form of pills and treatment should be administered under medical supervision for a period of 1-3 months.
Patients who have developed heart disease or digestive symptoms may also be prescribed treatment to improve those problems.
In general, you can continue breastfeeding without problems. You should only avoid breastfeeding in 3 very specific cases:
- if your nipple has bleeding cracks or fissures
- if you have acute Chagas disease caused by consuming a drink contaminated with kissing bugs in Latin America
- if you have chronic Chagas disease and the infection has been reactivated because of lowered defences
In these three cases, one alternative may be to use your own breast milk after it has been heated using a double boiler or a microwave.
Treatment for Chagas disease does not produce adverse effects in most patients. When adverse effects do occur, they can usually be managed with medication and the patient can continue the treatment. Occasionally, treatment is discontinued early if the adverse effect is severe. For these reasons, drugs for the treatment of Chagas disease should always be taken under medical supervision. Patients should visit their doctor regularly during the months they are taking the drugs in case they develop adverse effects.
The most common adverse effects associated with treatment for Chagas disease are as follows:
- skin reactions
- stomach pain
- sleep disturbances
- joint pain
Occasionally, treatment is associated with more severe adverse effects, such as fever or vomiting, which in rare cases may lead to withdrawal of treatment.
Consult your doctor immediately if you develop any side effects, even if these are not severe.
You cannot be infected by simple skin contact. Infection can only occur when the infected blood penetrates through a break in the skin or another route of entry. Infection can be the result of contact with an infected needle. Such an accident could, for example, occur in an operating room if a health professional is accidentally pricked with a needle that has been in contact with the blood of a person with Chagas. The likelihood of infection varies depending on the stage of the affected person's disease. In an adult with disease in the chronic stage, there are very few parasites in blood that can cause disease so the probability of transmission in this way during this phase is minimal. If the blood comes from a baby with Chagas, the possibility of infection is greater because the baby has acute Chagas disease and his or her blood will contain many circulating parasites. It is therefore advisable to use protection when cutting the umbilical cord during a delivery to prevent contact with splashes of blood on or near the eyes or mouth, since in both cases there is a risk of transmission.
Please inform your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will tell you what to do. It is very possible that you will be told to stop the treatment and to resume when you finish breastfeeding your baby.
Paediatric Chagas disease is treatable. The treatment in children is very effective and the sooner it is started the better the results obtained. A 30-day course of treatment is recommended in newborn babies and infants up to 1 year of age. In children aged over 1 year the recommended treatment is 60 days. The dose or amount of drug administered must be prescribed by the paediatrician.
No. Alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited during treatment for Chagas.
There are medications you can take at the same time as treatment for Chagas and others that are contraindicated. If you are taking medication for other conditions, you should inform your doctor about these before starting treatment for Chagas. Your doctor can tell you whether or not you can take both drugs at the same time.
Several clinical trials are currently investigating new drugs for Chagas disease. However, all of these trials are ongoing and it will take several years before they produce the results needed to obtain the approval required to market any new product.
No, not all kissing bugs transmit Chagas. There are some species that transmit the Chagas parasite and others that do not. Furthermore, even among the species that can transmit the parasite not all bugs are infected. Consequently some people who have been bitten or had contact with a kissing bug do not have Chagas disease. In many cases the bugs are born healthy and become infected when they bite a person infected with the parasite that causes Chagas disease.
If you see a kissing bug you should catch it while covering your hand with a plastic bag to avoid all contact with the insect. If you are successful, you should take the bug to the nearest health centre where they can test it to check for Chagas infection. If you fail to catch the bug, you should take precautions to avoid being bitten. For example, use a mosquito net, check the room where you are going to sleep, and cover all food to prevent infection by oral transmission.
The best method is to catch the bug alive so that it can be screened for infection.
You must ensure that the blood you will receive has been screened, that is, that it has been tested for Chagas disease and that the result was negative.