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Chagas disease is a condition spread by parasites found throughout Mexico and in Central and South America. There are two stages to the disease; an infected individual may manifest the symptoms of the first stage, recover, and it may be several years before the symptoms of the second stage develop. First-stage Chagas disease symptoms include full-body fatigue and weakness, along with swelling in certain areas. In the later stage, the condition is characterized by gastrointestinal problems and pain.
The Chagas disease symptoms that occur during the first phase of the illness often do not result in a conclusive diagnosis, as they are symptoms associated with a number of illnesses. Depending on the individual, symptoms such as fatigue, muscle and body aches, headaches, and fever may be so mild that he or she may not even seek medical attention. There can also be swelling in some areas of the body, which may or may not be noticeable. The liver may become inflamed, along with glands in the neck.
Chagas disease is caused by a parasite known as Trypanosoma cruzi, spread through the bite of a bug called the reduvid. If an individual is bitten by the bug carrying the parasite, the area of the bite will often become red, tender, and swollen. In some cases, though, this can be mistaken for a regular bug bite.
Depending on the age of the individual, some serious developments may occur even at this stage. Inflammation can be severe in young children, and may impact not only the liver but the heart as well. If medical attention is not sought, these Chagas disease symptoms can be deadly for a child.
An infected individual may not develop Chagas disease symptoms relating to the second stage for years after being infected. Once the dormant parasite begins attacking the body, there may be cardiovascular consequences such as heart failure or a heart attack. Some individuals may develop enlarged heart or esophagus muscles. These symptoms do not occur in all cases, and an individual may have mild or severe complications. Even when the parasite is dormant, the disease can still be spread through blood donations or from mother to child.
The parasites can be found as far north as Mexico, but because of individuals traveling across the border, the disease can also be found in areas of the United States. Therefore, even those who have not traveled in Latin America can contract the disease, although it is much rarer outside the endemic areas. Chagas disease symptoms can also manifest in newborns, as the disease can be transferred from an infected mother to a child, and many individuals do not even know they are infected.