Causes of Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis)

Learn about the cause of Chagas disease and how it is spread.

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What causes Chagas disease?

Chagas disease (also known as American trypanosomiasis) is caused by a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi.

How is Chagas disease spread?

Chagas disease is spread through feces from an infected triatomine bug. This bug is sometimes referred to as a:

  • "kissing bug" because it can bite you around the mouth
  • reduviid bug
  • assassin bug

The triatomine bug usually bites you at night. After biting, the bug leaves its feces close to the bite. When you touch the bite, you can accidentally rub the feces into the bite.

You can also accidentally rub the feces into:

  • a scratch
  • an open wound
  • your eyes, nose or mouth

If the feces are from an infected triatomine bug, you will be exposed to the disease.

In rare cases, Chagas disease can also be spread:

  • through contaminated:
    • blood products (transfusion)
    • organ transplants
  • from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy and delivery
  • through food or drinks that are contaminated with infected triatomine feces (this is rare)
  • laboratory accident, such as accidental exposure to contaminated blood through:
    • needle prick
    • injury from scalpels, broken glass and other surgical instruments

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