Site Map

Chagas disease

Parasite infection - American trypanosomiasis

Chagas disease is an illness caused by tiny parasites and spread by insects. The disease is common in South and Central America.

Images

Kissing bug
Antibodies

I Would Like to Learn About:

Causes

Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. It is spread by the bite of reduviid bugs, or kissing bugs, and is one of the major health problems in South America. Due to immigration, the disease also affects people in the United States.

Risk factors for Chagas disease include:

Symptoms

Chagas disease has two phases: acute and chronic. The acute phase may have no symptoms or very mild symptoms, including:

After the acute phase, the disease goes into remission. No other symptoms may appear for many years. When symptoms finally develop, they may include:

Exams and Tests

Physical examination can confirm the symptoms. Signs of Chagas disease may include:

Tests include:

Treatment

The acute phase and reactivated Chagas disease should be treated. Infants born with the infection should also be treated.

Treating the chronic phase is recommended for children and most adults. Adults with chronic phase Chagas disease should talk to their health care provider to decide whether treatment is needed.

Two drugs are used to treat this infection: benznidazole and nifurtimox.

Both drugs often have side effects. The side effects may be worse in older people. They may include:

Outlook (Prognosis)

About one third of infected people who are not treated will develop chronic or symptomatic Chagas disease. It may take more than 20 years from the time of the original infection to develop heart or digestive problems.

Abnormal heart rhythms may cause sudden death. Once heart failure develops, death usually occurs within several years.

Possible Complications

Chagas disease can cause these complications:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your provider if you think you may have Chagas disease.

Prevention

Insect control with insecticides and houses that are less likely to have high insect populations will help control the spread of the disease.

Blood banks in Central and South America screen donors for exposure to the parasite. The blood is discarded if the donor has the parasite. Most blood banks in the United States began screening for Chagas disease in 2007.

Related Information

Acute
Chronic
Malaise
Swelling
Cardiomyopathy
Heart failure

References

Kirchhoff LV. Trypanosoma species (American trypanosomiasis, Chagas' disease): biology of trypanosomes. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 276.

Salvana EMT, Salata RA. American Trypanosomiasis (Chagas Disease; Trypanosoma cruzi). In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 313.

BACK TO TOP

Review Date: 12/24/2020  

Reviewed By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

ADAM Quality Logo
Health Content Provider
06/01/2025

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, for Health Content Provider (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics. This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information: verify here.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2022 A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.