American trypanosomiasis, also known as Chagas disease, affects millions of people throughout the Americas.
Carlos Chagas first described this disease in 1911 when he discovered the parasite in the blood of a Brazilian child with fever, lymphadenopathy, and anemia.
Trypanosoma cruzi, a protozoan hemoflagellate, is the parasite that causes this disease. When humans are infected, the parasite can cause acute illness; however, the infection is generally asymptomatic. In some cases, usually many years after initial infection, the affected individual can have clinical signs and symptoms from damage to the heart or GI tract. The disease is the leading cause of non-ischemic congestive heart failure worldwide and notably in Latin America where it is endemic.
A rare form of trypanosomiasis, caused by Trypanosoma lewisi, has been reported in 8 individuals.
This review does not include discussion of African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) because that disease in infants and children is indistinguishable from disease in adults. For information, see African Trypanosomiasis (Sleeping Sickness).