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Nasty Infectious Diseases You Want To Avoid - Chagas Disease

Updated on November 30, 2008

 Chagas disease is a parasitic disease also known as American trypanosomiasis transmitted by the bite of blood-sucking insects and rarely by blood transfusions. Named for 19th-century Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas, the disease is endemic in Central and South America, where it is recognized as a serious public health problem. Officials there rank their need to control this disease third, behind malaria and schistosomiasis.

More than a quarter of the total population in Central and South America are at risk, with more than a million cases each year. Of these, 45,000 people will die and up to 18 million people may be currently infected. Of these, 3 million may have already developed chronic complications, and more than 3 million are still in the incubation period. The disease is also known as Brazilian trypanosomiasis, Chagas-Cruz disease, Cruz trypanosomiasis, and South American trypanosomiasis.

Trypanosoma cruzi is primarily found in the United States in a variety of woodland wildlife, including armadillos, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, woodrats and mice. Of these, opossums are particularly significant as disease reservoirs because the parasite has the ability to complete its life cycle in the anal glands of the opossum without having to resort to the insect vector. Up to 37.5% of all opossums in the United States may be infected.

Cause - The disease is caused by the singlecelled parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, very similar to those that cause sleeping sickness in Africa. The parasite infects bugs commonly known as "assassin bugs" or "cone-nosed bugs" (reduviid); when the bugs defecate, the excrement includes the parasite, which can then enter a human through a break in the skin or through a mucous membrane. The parasites live in the bloodstream and can also affect a person's heart, intestines, or nervous system.

Symptoms - The disease may occur in an acute or chronic form. The acute form (common in children, rare in adults) is marked by a lesion at the site of infection, together with fever, weakness, enlarged spleen and lymph nodes, facial and leg swelling, and rapid heartbeat. This form disappears on its own in about four months, unless complications (such as encephalitis) set in. About 10 to 20 years after the initial acute phase, incurable lesions of the disease develop. In addition, 27 percent of those infected develop a chronic heart disease problem. Six percent have chronic lesions in the digestive tract, and about 3 percent may have neurological problems. Patients with chronic disease become progressively sick and ultimately die, usually as a result of heart failure.

Treatment - Nifurtimox is available from the CDC for the treatment of short-term Chagas disease. There is no accepted anti-parasitic treatment for chronic illness.

Prevention - The best prevention is to avoid potential reduviid habitats (mud, adobe, and thatch buildings, especially those with cracks or crevices). If this isn't feasible, infection may be prevented by spraying infested areas with insecticide, using fumigant canisters and insecticidal paints, and using bed nets. Housing improvements have also helped. In addition, screening blood donors at blood banks helps to control the spread of the disease via blood transfusions. In 1991, the health ministers of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay began a program to eliminate Chagas disease by the end of this century. Since then, house infestation has declined 75 to 98 percent in some areas, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

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    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      8 years ago from Toronto

      Whoooooohooooooooo... we got a live one here! Keep going, this is the most fun I've had in a while on Hubpages! :)

    • profile image

      betty boyce 

      8 years ago

      TO WHOM THE DIEASE IT YOU ALL AN FAILUREB OF PASTB AN AMTRAXS AN ALL SECTORS AN BATA BLOOCKER THAT BLOCKS TH WOMEN BODY IMAGE TO MAKE THEM AN KIDS LOOK BAD AN FEEL BAD LIKE THEY DID MY KIDS AN EFECTS BLADDER AN STOMACH AN HEART BURNS AN SWELLING AN AFTER SHOCK OF EVERY FEELING OF AN WITH BLACKS AN ARABS AN ASIA AN ALL OTHER THAT HAVE PUT ON GOOD PEOPLE AN BLOODS SUPPLY AN THAT CAUSEINGM AFTER AN ALTERRAYTHIONS TO ARMS AN GRAIN AN BREAT AN CAUSE BLOTTING AN SWELLING AN TAKES AWAY MUCLE TONE AN INFECTS OF ALL NEW BORNS AN GOOD BODYS SYSTEMS AL BAD SMELLS OF JEALIOUS PEOPLE DOCTORS AN DENTIST AN POISIONS LIKE PACTRICT SWAZIE AN HIS EX WIFES FAMILY THEN CAUSE OF DEATH FINALS HAPPENS

      .

    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      8 years ago from Toronto

      Wow. Did you skip your lithium today? :)

    • profile image

      BETTY betty 2 boyce 

      8 years ago

      KE THE BLOOD SYSTEMS AN ALL YOU NASTY DIRTY LITTLE MANLY HOODS AN TELL IT LIKE YOU SEE IT THAN YOU WELL HAVE ALL REASONS TO BE HERE AN THERE AN ALL DOINGS AN PAST DEATHS AN COPS AN NO BLACKS IN ANT JOBS SO WE CAN GO AFTER YOU AN YOUR DESEASE THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      8 years ago from Toronto

      I wouldn't be surprised at all with climate change and the vast amount of travel that S. Cal. is now home to some real nasties!

    • profile image

      dennis 

      8 years ago

      last night here in southern california i killed a bug that looks exactly the same as the bug that spreads this kinda wierd but it was crawling towards my kitten on my arm i just hope thats the only one i come across but very scary it can kill you though

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