The Silent Killer: Chagas Disease and the Terrifying Nighttime Bugs

We used to frequently hear tales as kids about monsters that hide in the shadows. For some people, the silent killer known as Chagas disease brings their childhood nightmare to life. Nocturnal insects that emerge at night carry this disease, which kills 12,000 people annually and infects up to 8 million people annually.

The 42-year-old Bolivian Emiliana Rodriguez is all too familiar with the horrors of Chagas. She can still clearly recall a buddy of hers falling apart during a late soccer match. This incident left me deeply afraid of the dark and the hidden menace posed by Chagas, the “monster” that appears only at night.

In the end, Rodriguez relocated to Barcelona in order to avoid Chagas’s grasp, but the anxiety persisted. She says, “The terror usually struck at night.” She was frightened that she wouldn’t wake up, so sleep was hard. When she found out she carried the Chagas virus during her first pregnancy, her worries grew. Her mind was filled with images of unexpected deaths, and she was concerned about the future of her child.

Thankfully, Rodriguez received medication to stop the parasite from infecting her newborn. Rodriguez did not test positive for Chagas after giving birth to her daughter. Her experience serves as a testament to the value of prompt identification and treatment.

Elvira Idalia Hernández Cuevas, a different mother in Mexico, was unaware of Chagas disease until her daughter Idalia was given the diagnosis. Idalia, who was eighteen at the time, found out about her illness while giving blood. Idalia’s family was shocked and confused to learn of the news. They were unaware of Chagas and were unsure of where to get assistance, just like a lot of other people.


Chagas disease is a global health concern that is prevalent in Latin America, North America, Europe, Japan, Australia, and other regions. It is named for the Brazilian physician and researcher Carlos Ribeiro Justiniano Chagas.

The kissing or vampire bugs, which are the insects that spread Chagas disease, are typically found in the walls of low-income rural or suburban homes. When people fall asleep at night, they become active. The parasite that causes Chagas is spread by the bugs when they bite their prey and urinate on their skin. Infection might result from picking at the bite or unintentionally getting excrement in the mouth or eyes.

The majority of Chagas patients remain asymptomatic, with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that 6 to 7 million people worldwide suffer from the disease. The illness has a potential to be lethal if untreated. In fact, Chagas is more deadly than malaria and kills more people in Latin America than any other parasitic disease.


Although 300,000 people are thought to be affected by the endemic Chagas disease in some parts of the United States, the bugs that cause the illness are not common. Nevertheless, the CDC issues a warning that 20 to 30 percent of infected people may experience severe discomfort or even death as a result of cardiac or gastrointestinal disorders later in life.

Sadly, a lot of those who are impacted, including Hernández and her daughter, have trouble getting a correct diagnosis and course of therapy. Medical personnel frequently misdiagnose or confuse Chagas disease with other heart problems due to a lack of knowledge and training on the ailment.

Chagas disease is classified as a neglected tropical disease, which means that international health policy pay it minimal attention. One factor making it more difficult to treat and prevent the condition is this lack of awareness. Furthermore, early detection is made more challenging by the first infection’s asymptomatic character.


Chagas disease is currently being battled, with Professor David Moore in the forefront. His intention was to increase testing, treatment, and management of transmission by establishing the Chagas Hub in the United Kingdom. The WHO’s goal of eradicating Chagas by 2030 appears improbable in the absence of substantial improvements in treatment choices, as development is still sluggish.

There are drugs like nifurtimox and benznidazole that can be used to treat Chagas, however they have drawbacks. They have unpleasant side effects, have the potential to be poisonous, and may not be able to stop or significantly reduce the onset of adult diseases. Pharmaceutical companies now have little financial incentive to spend in discovering novel therapies, despite the urgent need for further research.

Now in Spain, Emiliana Rodriguez is battling the “monster” by spreading knowledge about Chagas disease via a campaign organized by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health. She wants others to talk about Chagas, get tested, and seek treatment because she is sick of the silence.

In honor of Carlos Chagas’ historic discovery, the World Health Organization has designated April 14 as World Chagas Disease Day. By establishing global targets for 2030, the WHO hopes to prevent, control, eradicate, and eradicate a number of diseases, including Chagas disease.

The idea that these silent killers live inside our walls, akin to the creatures from our childhood horror stories, is unsettling. We hope that more people become aware of Chagas disease and take action to end this silent yet fatal condition.

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