Because Chagas has some similarities to HIV, there have been erroneous reports that it is a similar disease and will spread and infect people with the same impunity. There are a few shared characteristics:
-Both HIV and Chagas have acute phases, followed by a chronic phase much later.
-People with either disease can be infected for years symptom free without knowing it.
-Either disease can be contracted through blood transfusions and passed in utero to a developing fetus.
-Chagas and HIV affect a disproportionate number of poverty stricken people who are more likely to be living in conditions lacking quality health care and without access to proper treatment.
-HIV and Chagas both require prolonged treatment which is most effective during the acute phase of the disease.
There are also some very different aspects to these two diseases:
-Chagas disease is caused by Trypanosoma Cruzi, a parasite. HIV/AIDS is caused by a virus.
-Chagas disease is typically transmitted by contact to the T. Cruzi parasite through ingestion of contaminated food or by the bite of a carrier triatomine bug. HIV/AIDS is transmitted directly from human to human through shared body fluids.
-HIV/AIDS affects the body’s immune system. Chagas disease affects primarily the heart and intestines.
-The majority of people with Chagas never develop chronic symptoms. HIV/AIDS is nearly always fatal without treatment.
-Since the carrier triatomine bug only lives in the Americas, infection is limited to those areas. HIV/AIDS is worldwide.
Both diseases carry an amount of social stigma; sexual orientation for HIV/AIDS patients and immigration status for many sufferers of Chagas who contract the disease in Central or South America then immigrate illegally to the U.S. where their status keeps them from seeking medical attention.
The most common tell-tale sign of Chagas is swelling of the eyelids on the side of the face near the bug bite.
“It likes to bite you on the face,” CNN reported. “It’s called the kissing bug. When it ingests your blood, it excretes the parasite at the same time. When you wake up and scratch the itch, the parasite moves into the wound and you’re infected.”
There currently is no vaccination against Chagas and prevention is the preferred method of treatment at this time:
-Using sprays and paints with insecticides is helpful.
-Also, avoiding the romantic allure of a dirt floored hut in the jungle near the beach where the bugs like to breed. Triatomine bugs live primarily in mud, adobe huts with dirt floors and hide in cracks in the walls or roof during the day, coming out at night.
-If sleeping in an area near newly cleared forest, use mosquito netting over your bed.
“The problem is once the heart symptoms start, which is the most dreaded complication, the Chagas cardiomyopathy, the medicines no longer work very well. Problem number two: the medicines are extremely toxic.” Dr. Peter Hotez, a researcher at Baylor College of Medicine.
Chronic heart disease caused by Chagas disease is now a common reason for heart transplantation surgery. See your doctor if you live in or have traveled to an area at risk of Chagas disease and you have signs and symptoms of the condition, such as swelling at the infection site, fever, fatigue, body aches, rash and nausea. However, it is rare for travelers to contract Chagas.
Treatment of Chagas disease focuses mainly on killing the parasite during the acute phase and managing symptoms in the chronic later phase.
Dr. Carlos Chagas, after whom the disease is named, was a Brazilian physician was the first to describe the disease and its symptoms in 1909.