Chagas’ disease shown on MRI. Contrast-enhanced axial and coronal T1-weighted images of brain show multiple enhancing lesions (arrows) without significant mass effect. Involved areas include corpus callosum, periventricular white matter, deep white matter, subcortical regions, and cerebellum.
What is Chagas’ Disease?
Also called American trypanosomiasis (tri-PAN-o-so-MY-a-sis), Chagas’ disease is an infection caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. It is estimated that as many as 11 million people in Mexico, Central America, and South America have Chagas disease, most of whom do not know they are infected. If unrecognized and untreated, even silent infection is life long and can be life threatening.
The most recognized marker of acute Chagas disease is called Romaña’s sign, which includes swelling of the eyelids on the side of the face near the bite wound or where the bug feces were deposited or accidentally rubbed into the eye. Even if symptoms develop during the acute phase, they usually fade away on their own, within a few weeks or months. Although the symptoms resolve, the infection, if untreated, persists. Rarely, young children (myocarditis) or brain (meningoencephalitis). The acute phase also can be severe in people with weakened immune systems.
How is Chagas disease treated?
There are two approaches to therapy, both of which can be life saving:
antiparasitic treatment, to kill the parasite; and
symptomatic treatment, to manage the symptoms and signs of infection.
Antiparasitic treatment is most effective early in the course of infection but is not limited to cases in the acute phase. In the United States, this type of treatment is available through CDC. Your health care provider can talk with CDC staff about whether and how you should be treated. Most people do not need to be hospitalized during treatment.
Symptomatic treatment may help people who have cardiac or intestinal problems from Chagas disease. For example, pacemakers and medications for irregular heartbeats may be life saving for some patients with chronic cardiac disease.