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What is chagas disease?

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Quick Answer

Chagas disease is an infectious disease. A parasite, which triatomine bugs transmit to animals and people, causes chagas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Triatomine bugs become infected by biting an infected animal or person, and then pass the parasite on in their feces.

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Chagas disease can cause either acute or chronic symptoms, notes Mayo Clinic. Sudden illness, which can last for weeks or months, characterizes the acute phase. Although many people afflicted with the disease do not immediately display symptoms, when they do occur, they include swelling, fever, body aches, loss of appetite and enlargement of the liver or spleen. Chronic symptoms can occur as long as 10 to 20 years after infection but include irregular heartbeat, congestive heartbeat, sudden cardiac arrest and abdominal pain. In some cases, people never display any symptoms.

Treatment of Chagas disease depends on the specific signs and symptoms, but it generally targets killing the parasite and otherwise managing symptoms, explains Mayo Clinic. For acute cases, prescription medicines, such as benznidazole and nifurtimox, may help. In chronic cases, drugs may help slow the progression and complications of the disease, but drugs do not cure it. For the most severe cases, surgery may be necessary.

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