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Chagas Disease FAQ

Is Chagas Disease Really the 'AIDS of the Americas'?

How Is Chagas Disease Spread? continued...

Inside houses, the most common places to find the bugs are near pet resting areas (a good reason not to sleep with your pets), in areas infested by rodents, and in or around beds (particularly under mattresses or bedside tables).

These bugs usually come out at night. They feed on the blood of humans and other mammals, birds, and reptiles. The bugs are attracted to the lips -- hence the nickname "kissing bug" -- although bites may occur on other parts of the body.

The bug bite itself doesn't spread Chagas parasites. But while feeding, bug droppings are left near the wound. When these droppings get into the wound or mucous membranes (as when a person touches the droppings and then rubs his or her eye), the parasites enter the body.

Chagas can also be spread:

  • By getting a blood transfusion or organ transplant from an infected person.
  • By eating undercooked foods contaminated with infected bugs or their droppings.
  • By eating undercooked game infected with Chagas parasites.
  • From mother to child during pregnancy or during breastfeeding.
  • In laboratory accidents.

In South America, people have been infected with Chagas parasites through contaminated cane juice, acai juice, guava juice, and palm wine.

While the burden of Chagas disease falls mainly on people in Central and South America, the disease is spreading worldwide. Cases have been seen in Japan and Western Europe. And Chagas is becoming more of a problem in the Southern U.S., particularly in Texas and the Gulf Coast.

What Are the Symptoms of Chagas Disease?

People with acute-phase Chagas disease may not have any symptoms at all. Mild symptoms of acute Chagas disease are similar to other illnesses: fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting.

One unique sign of Chagas disease is called Romaña's sign: swelling of the eyelids and around the eye on the side of the face near the bite or where infected bug droppings have been rubbed into the eye.

But these acute-phase symptoms usually go away on their own even though the infection does not.

When chronic symptoms occur, they are the symptoms of severe heart disease or severe intestinal disease.

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