Chagas Disease is an occasionally fatal parasitic infection transmitted by biting insects, particularly in Latin America, Argentina and the Southern United States. According to the WHO it affects between 16 and 18 million people and is responsible for 45,000 to 50,000 deaths per year. It is thought that almost one hundred million people exposed, mostly in rural areas and poor suburbs of large cities. This distribution related to socio-economic factors is explained by the lifestyle of the insect vectors that proliferate in damp environments and those with poor hygiene.
The disease was described for the first time by the Brazilian doctor Carlos Chagas in 1909. It has spread rapidly though the massive population movements into major metropolitan areas particularly in the 1970 and 1980s.
It is caused by a small parasite belonging to the Trypanosome family (Trypanosoma cruzi). It is therefore a trypanosomiasis related to sleeping sickness. The parasite is transmitted by a biting insect belonging to the Hemiptera order, the triatoma or predator bug (Triatoma infestans). It is not transmitted by the insect's bite but by its waste, particularly when this comes into contact with skin lesions. The parasite can also be transmitted from mother to child across the placenta and by blood transfusions. Besides human beings, other species of mammals are affected by this Trypanosome.
The disease presents seven to ten days after infection with an acute phase that can be fatal in young children. The symptoms are those of an immune reaction, which varies between people (headaches, temperature, muscle pains, malaise, etc.). A chronic form develops ten to thirty days after infection in 30% of people, with cardiac muscle or gastro-intestinal disease.
There is no known treatment for the disease itself but only treatment for its effects. In contrast, preventative hygiene measures are effective.