Chagas Disease FAQ
Is Chagas Disease Really the 'AIDS of the Americas'?
What Is the Treatment for Chagas Disease?
Children and adults under age 50 should be treated as soon as possible after infection with Chagas parasites. For adults 50 and older, treatment decisions should be individualized based on age, health, and personal preference.
Treated early enough, the disease can be cleared in most children and in about 80% of adults. Even when treatment does not totally eliminate the parasite, it can greatly reduce the odds of severe chronic disease.
There are only two drugs used to treat Chagas disease: nifurtimox and benznidazole. Neither of these drugs is approved by the FDA and, in the U.S., must be obtained by doctors through the CDC.
Treatment must continue for 60 to 90 days. Side effects, some of them severe, are common.
Some 9 million people worldwide have Chagas disease, with about 20% to 40% suffering from chronic disease. Both drugs used to treat the disease are in short supply. Even when they are available, the cost of treatment can be as high as $1,000 or more.
How Is Chagas Disease Prevented?
Prevention of Chagas disease focuses on spraying insecticide to kill off triatomine bugs, improved housing, and the use of bed nets.
Since 2007, most U.S. blood banks have tested donated blood for Chagas parasites, thus protecting the blood supply.
Pregnant women should not take either of the drugs used to treat Chagas disease. But prompt treatment of infected newborns almost always eliminates the parasite.
Is Chagas Disease Really Like AIDS?
In some ways, the comparison of Chagas to AIDS is unfortunate.
Unlike HIV, the AIDS virus, Chagas parasites cannot be spread via sex. Untreated HIV infection is almost always fatal, while 70% to 80% of people with Chagas disease do not develop severe heart disease.
But Chagas disease does share some features with AIDS:
- Both are diseases of poverty. In the Americas, Chagas is mainly a problem of the "bottom 100 million" people who suffer from at least one of the so-called neglected tropical diseases.
- Both diseases carry significant stigma. In the U.S., undocumented workers infected with Chagas disease may not seek treatment due to fear of deportation.
- Both diseases are treated with drugs that are in short supply.
- Both diseases are treated with expensive drugs.
- Lack of access to medical care complicates both the Chagas and AIDS epidemics.
- There is no vaccine either for Chagas disease or for HIV/AIDS.