Chagas or “kissing bug” disease has not gained a lot of attention but it is a condition that is worth knowing about. The condition has infected millions in South America. Chagas is an infection that can recur years later to cause detrimental health issues after an initial infection that was left unnoticed.
The kissing bugs are responsible for spreading the infection. Most cases of infections with Chagas is acquired in other countries especially those who travelled in Central and South American countries. The medical care of this infection is considered quite costly.
What are the signs and symptoms of Chagas?
When it comes to Chagas, there are 2 stages that you should be familiar with.
This phase occurs right after being infected. In most cases, there are no evident symptoms while others have mild infection. The parasites are present in the blood and can last for a few weeks up to months usually 4-8 weeks without treatment. The following symptoms can occur but they are not quite specific:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Enlarged spleen or liver
- Other symptoms include appetite loss, rash, vomiting and diarrhea
Since these symptoms are difficult to distinguish from other infections, Chagas has one specific indication such as swelling around the site where the parasite entered. Since the site is often on the face and infection can occur through infected material that enters the eye, many usually end up with one-side eye swelling during the acute stage. One swollen eye which is called Romaña’s sign is linked with the disease.
Among young children and infants, they might develop brain swelling. As for pregnant mothers, they might lose their pregnancies.
The chronic phase can occur years after, usually 10-20 years after the early infection. Some who are diseased can end up with chronic symptoms. Remember that these can be serious, persist over years and can be life-threatening. Prompt treatment can help but it is not often available or the infection was not recognized earlier.
The complications can affect the esophagus, heart and the colon. Some develop an enlarged heart that do not pump properly and have erratic rhythms which require electronic pacing or heart transplants.
What causes Chagas?
The kissing bug is responsible for Chagas. These bugs tend to bite the face and spreads the parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi which causes Chagas.
It is important to note that the kissing bug can become infected by the parasite by feeding on infected blood from an individual or animal. The bug feeds on another individual which spreads the infection.
The bites alone do not trigger the infection though. Since the bugs defecate close to the bite site, it results to the spread of the condition. This is true if the individual scrapes the wound or if the septic material enters the mucous membranes on the facial area such as the nose, eyes and mouth. The bites usually at night time when an individual is asleep.