COMBATING INFECTION: Checking up on Chagas disease
Michelle Snow PhD, RN

November 2012 
Volume 42  Number 11
Pages 63 - 64
  PDF Version Available!

ALSO KNOWN AS American trypanosomiasis, Chagas disease is a debilitating and potentially fatal infection. It's typically spread to humans through blood-feeding insects called triatomines, or "kissing bugs," that are infected with the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi.1According to the CDC, Chagas disease affects between 8 and 11 million people in Latin America and up to 300,000 immigrants living in the southern United States and Hawaii.2 Although triatomines are found in the United States, they're rarely infected with the T. cruzi protozoa, causing fewer than a dozen cases since 1955.2,3If untreated, patients with Chagas disease may experience debilitating and sometimes life-threatening complications, including cardiac disease (conduction abnormalities, apical aneurysm) or gastrointestinal problems (megacolon, megaesophagus). Infection with T. cruzi also increases the risk of stroke.1Triatomines, also known as reduviid bugs, live in nests housed in cracks and crevices in walls and roofing materials of homes during the daylight hours. At night, the insects venture out for a blood meal from sleeping human hosts, leaving a trail of infected feces behind. Human hosts may rub the feces into the fresh bite or other breaks in their skin or their eyes, mouth, or other mucous membranes, infecting themselves with T. cruzi. Other mechanisms for infection include ingestion of foods contaminated with infectious triatomine feces, blood transfusions, organ transplants, and from mother to fetus.2,3Chagas disease has two phases: acute and chronic. In the acute phase, which lasts for a few months, patients may experience no signs or symptoms or mild signs and symptoms such as fatigue, fever, malaise, hepatomegaly, lymphadenopathy, rash, gastritis, anorexia, and the Romana sign (orbital edema, conjunctivitis, and lymphadenopathy on one side of the face).4 Patients under age 2, older adults, and those with a compromised immune system may experience fatal complications, which include heart failure,

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