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Chagas Disease / American Trypanosomiasis

Chagas disease, or American trypanosomiasis, is an illness that can cause serious heart and stomach problems. It is caused by a parasite. Chagas disease is common in Latin America, especially in poor, rural areas. It can also be found in the United States, most often in people who were infected before they moved to the U.S.

An estimated 16 to 18 million people worldwide are infected with Chagas disease. It is most commonly seen in South America, Middle America, and Mexico. American trypanosomiasis is spread by Triatome bugs (or “kissing’ bugs) that live in cracks and holes of substandard housing from the southern United States to southern Argentina.  Triatome bugs defecate while blood-feeding, and if the insect is infected with the parasite, the parasite can enter the bloodstream when the host scratches the bite wound.

Chagas Disease/American Trypanosomiasis is not a reportable disease in Oklahoma.


  • Avoid sleeping in thatch, mud, or adobe houses.
  • If traveling to a country with high levels of disease, sleep inside screened areas, under a permethrin-impregnated bed net, or an air-conditioned room.
  • Avoid insect bites.
  • Use insecticides to kill bugs and reduce the risk of transmission.
  • Wash and cook any food that could be contaminated with insect feces.
  • Remain aware that, in some countries, the blood supply may not always be screened for American trypanosomiasis and blood transfusions may carry a risk of infection.

If symptoms develop, they may occur between 5 and 14 days after the insect bite. If exposed through a blood transfusion, symptoms may develop in 30 to 40 days. Most people do not have symptoms until the chronic stage of infection, 10 to 40 years after first being infected.  T.cruzi, the parasite that causes American trypanosomiasis, may remain in the body throughout the person's lifetime.

Medication for Chagas disease is usually effective when given during the early acute stage of infection. Once the disease has progressed to later stages, medication may be less effective. In the late chronic stages of infection, treatment focuses on managing the symptoms associated with the disease.