Brazilian Trypanosomiasis: An Overview of the Disease

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Brazilian Trypanosomiasis: A Neglected Tropical Disease


Brazilian trypanosomiasis, also known as Chagas disease, is a vector-borne parasitic infection caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. It is a neglected tropical disease (NTD) that affects millions of people in Latin America, particularly in rural areas where poverty and lack of access to healthcare are common. This disease poses a significant public health problem, causing substantial morbidity and mortality.


Trypanosoma cruzi is transmitted primarily through the feces of infected Triatomine bugs, commonly known as kissing bugs. These bugs feed on human blood and defecate near the bite wound. The parasite enters the bloodstream when the person scratches or rubs the bite, introducing the infected feces into the wound.

Clinical Manifestations

Brazilian trypanosomiasis has two distinct phases: the acute phase and the chronic phase.

Acute Phase

The acute phase typically occurs within 2-3 weeks after infection and lasts for several months. Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Rash
  • Swelling of the face, eyelids, or lips (Romaña’s sign)

In most cases, the acute phase is mild and self-resolving. However, in some individuals, it can progress to a severe form characterized by heart muscle inflammation (myocarditis) or brain inflammation (meningoencephalitis).

Chronic Phase

Approximately 30-40% of infected individuals develop the chronic phase of Brazilian trypanosomiasis, which can last for decades or even a lifetime. The chronic phase is primarily characterized by:

  • Heart disease: Chagas disease can lead to cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle. This can result in heart failure, arrhythmias, and sudden cardiac death.
  • Digestive disorders: The parasite can also affect the digestive system, causing enlargement of the esophagus (megaesophagus) or colon (megacolon). These conditions can lead to difficulty in swallowing, constipation, and abdominal pain.


The diagnosis of Brazilian trypanosomiasis is based on clinical symptoms, laboratory tests, and epidemiological information. Microscopic examination of blood smears can detect the parasite during the acute phase. Serological tests are used to confirm the diagnosis in both acute and chronic phases.


Two medications are available for the treatment of Brazilian trypanosomiasis: benznidazole and nifurtimox. These drugs are effective in eliminating the parasite from the bloodstream and mencegah the development of chronic complications. Treatment is most effective when administered during the acute phase. However, it can also be used in the chronic phase to prevent further disease progression.


Prevention of Brazilian trypanosomiasis focuses on controlling the Triatomine bug population and reducing human exposure to infected bugs. Measures include:

  • Improvement of housing conditions to eliminate bug hiding places
  • Use of insecticide-treated bed nets
  • Community education campaigns
  • Blood screening and treatment of infected individuals

Control and Elimination

Several countries in Latin America have implemented control programs to reduce the transmission of Brazilian trypanosomiasis. These programs have included mass screening and treatment of infected individuals, vector control measures, and health education campaigns. As a result, the prevalence of the disease has significantly declined in some areas.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has set a goal to eliminate Brazilian trypanosomiasis by 2030. This ambitious goal requires continued efforts to strengthen control programs, improve access to diagnosis and treatment, and promote research on new interventions.


Brazilian trypanosomiasis is a serious NTD that affects millions of people in Latin America. The disease can cause significant morbidity and mortality, particularly in the chronic phase. While effective treatments are available, prevention remains the cornerstone of control and elimination efforts. By addressing the underlying factors of poverty and lack of access to healthcare, and implementing comprehensive control programs, we can move towards a future where Brazilian trypanosomiasis is no longer a threat to public health.

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