Chagas Disease (American Trypanosomiasis)

What is Chagas Disease (American Trypanosomiasis)?

Chagas disease, also called American trypanosomiasis, is a disease spread by contact with triatomine bugs (also called reduviid bugs, "kissing" bugs, or assassin bugs). This disease can also be spread through contaminated blood products and contaminated food and drink.

Most people with this disease do not develop symptoms immediately after exposure to the triatomine bug but remain infected throughout their lives. When symptoms after initial exposure develop, the most recognized symptoms are redness and firm swelling at the bite wound or swelling of the eyelid a few days to weeks later. Other symptoms can include fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea, or vomiting. Approximately 30% of infected people, regardless of whether they had early symptoms, will develop more severe symptoms later in life, including heart conditions or gastrointestinal problems.

Who is at risk?

triatomine bug

Travelers who go to Mexico, Central America, or South America, especially rural areas, are at potential risk. However, Chagas disease acquired during typical tourist travel is thought to be rare. Travelers who sleep outdoors or who stay in poorly constructed housing are at highest risk.

What can travelers do to prevent Chagas disease?

There is no vaccine or medicine that prevents Chagas disease. Travelers can protect themselves by avoiding contact with triatomine bugs. General recommendations for preventing bug bites may also keep triatomine bugs away.

Prevent bug bites:

man spraying insect repellent on his arm
  • Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats.
  • Use an appropriate insect repellent as directed.
  • Higher percentages of active ingredient provide longer protection. Use products with the following active ingredients:
    • DEET (Products containing DEET include Off!, Cutter, Sawyer, and Ultrathon)
    • Picaridin (also known as KBR 3023, Bayrepel, and icaridin products containing picaridin include Cutter Advanced, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus, and Autan [outside the US])
    • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD (Products containing OLE include Repel and Off! Botanicals)
    • IR3535  (Products containing IR3535 include Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition and SkinSmart)
  • Always follow product directions and reapply as directed:
    • If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen first and insect repellent second.
    • Follow package directions when applying repellent on children. Avoid applying repellent to their hands, eyes, and mouth.
  • Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents). You can buy pre-treated clothing and gear or treat them yourself:
    • Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings. See the product information to find out how long the protection will last.
    • If treating items yourself, follow the product instructions carefully.
    • Do not use permethrin directly on skin.
  • Stay and sleep in screened or air conditioned rooms.

Consider medical evacuation insurance:

  • If you are in need of a blood transfusion in Mexico, Central America, or South America, make sure you are at a reputable place for medical care and the blood supply is screened.

If you feel sick and think you may have Chagas disease:

Traveler Information

Clinician Information