• Clinical science

Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis)


Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis) is an infectious disease caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi), which is typically transmitted by triatomine bugs of the Reduviid family. Chagas disease is endemic to Central and South America and most cases that occur in the US are reported in immigrants from endemic regions. Patients present initially with fever, swelling at the site of inoculation of triatomine feces, and generalized lymphadenopathy. These symptoms resolve within a few weeks, and the patient enters an asymptomatic latent phase, which may last for 10–20 years. Eventually, 10–30% of all infected patients enter a chronic phase and develop symptoms of Chagas cardiomyopathy and/or gastrointestinal disease characterized by achalasia and progressive dilation of the colon. The disease is diagnosed by thin and thick peripheral smears in the acute phase and by serological tests in the chronic phase. Chagas disease patients are treated with the antitrypanosomal drugs benznidazole and nifurtimox. Supportive therapy is required for Chagas cardiomyopathy and gastrointestinal disease. Treatment of Chagas disease is most effective when initiated early (in the acute phase).


Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.


  • Pathogen: Trypanosoma cruzi
    • Route of infections
      • Vector transmission
        • Is realized by numerous triatomine species of the Reduviidae family (also called kissing bug because it typically bites around the mouth or eyes)
        • T. cruzi is shed in the feces of the reduviid bug; feces is then rubbed into the bite site while scratching.
      • Contaminated food and drinks [1][2]


Clinical features


Chagas disease should be suspected in immigrants from endemic regions.


Antitrypanosomal therapy

Treatment against Chagas disease is most effective when initiated early (in the acute phase).

  • First-line: benznidazole
  • Second-line: nifurtimox

Chagas disease is caused by the kissing bug and treated with nifurtimox or Benznidazole: “I'm blowing charming kisses from my nifty Benz.”

Supportive therapy

  • Gastrointestinal disease
    • Megaesophagus: see “Therapy” in achalasia
    • Megacolon
      • High fiber diet with adequate fluid intake, laxatives, and/or rectal enemas to treat constipation
      • Patients with persistent constipation, fecalomas, sigmoid volvulus: rectosigmoidectomy (with either retrocecal interpositioning or end-to-side low colorectal anastomosis)


  • Instructions for people traveling to or working in endemic regions
    • Use insect repellents and insecticide-treated bed nets.
    • Avoid sleeping in poorly constructed houses with thatched roofs and cracked walls.
  • Public health measures
    • Screening of blood donors
    • Screening of neonates born to infected mothers
    • Vector control methods such as insecticide spraying and reduviid-proof housing
    • Food hygiene

No vaccination against T. cruzi is available and chemoprophylaxis is not recommended!

  • 1. Filigheddu MT, Górgolas M, Ramos JM. Enfermedad de Chagas de transmisión oral. Med Clin (Barc). 2017; 148(3): pp. 125–131. doi: 10.1016/j.medcli.2016.10.038.
  • 2. Santana RAG, Guerra MGVB, Sousa DR, et al. Oral Transmission of Trypanosoma cruzi, Brazilian Amazon. Emerg Infect Dis. 2018; 25(1): pp. 132–135. doi: 10.3201/eid2501.180646.
last updated 07/15/2020
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