Chagas (pronounced SHA-gus) disease is named after the Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas, who discovered it in 1909. It is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted to animals and people by insect vectors that are found only in the Americas (mainly, in rural areas of Latin America where poverty is widespread). Chagas disease (T. cruzi infection) is also referred to as American trypanosomiasis.
It is estimated that as many as 8 to 11 million people in Mexico, Central America, and South America have Chagas disease, most of whom do not know they are infected. If untreated, infection is lifelong and can be life threatening.
The impact of Chagas disease is not limited to the rural areas in Latin America in which vectorborne transmission occurs. Large-scale population movements from rural to urban areas of Latin America and to other regions of the world have increased the geographic distribution and changed the epidemiology of Chagas disease. In the United States and in other regions where Chagas disease is now found but is not endemic, control strategies should focus on preventing transmission from blood transfusion, organ transplantation, and mother-to-baby (congenital transmission).