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What is American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease)?

American trypanosomiasis, more commonly known as Chagas disease, is caused by a parasite spread by infected triatomine bugs. Chagas disease is caused by a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi.

There is no vaccine or medication that protects against Chagas disease.

What is my risk? 

The risk for most travellers is low, however it is higher for travellers visiting countries where Chagas disease occurs and who are:

How is it transmitted?

Chagas disease is most commonly spread through the infected feces of a triatomine bug, also called a “kissing bug”, reduviid bug or assassin bug.

In rare cases, Chagas disease can also be spread:

What are the symptoms?

Chagas disease occurs in two phases. Each phase has different symptoms.

First (acute) phase:

Symptoms of the disease occur one or more weeks after the triatomine bug bite and can last for about two months.

The symptoms are usually mild or do not occur at all, but in rare cases can cause death.

Acute symptoms include:

Second (chronic) phase:

Most people do not have symptoms, but still remain infected.

Some people will have symptoms but these usually appear 10-30 years after the initial infection.

These symptoms, which can be life-threatening, include:

Can American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease) be treated?

There are medications available to treat Chagas disease.

The medical problems that can develop in the chronic phase of Chagas disease cannot be treated, but there are medications available to manage some of the symptoms.

Where is American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease) a concern?

Chagas disease occurs in Mexico, Central America, and South America. The triatomine bug is found mainly in rural areas with poorly-constructed housing.

Recommendations

Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.

  1. Protect yourself from triatomine bug bites.
    • Avoid sleeping in poorly-constructed housing (especially those made from mud or thatch) or sleeping outdoors.
    • If you cannot avoid sleeping in poorly-constructed housing or sleeping outdoors, sleep under a bed net, preferably one treated with insecticide.
  2. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  3. In areas where Chagas disease occurs, avoid blood transfusions and organ transplants unless it is an emergency.
    • If you must receive a blood transfusion or organ transplant while travelling, try to confirm the donated blood or organ has been tested for Chagas disease.
    • If you cannot confirm the blood or organ has been screened, and you do not require emergency care, return home for treatment.

4. Know the symptoms of Chagas disease and see a health care provider if they develop.

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