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Chagas disease: Antitrypanosomal drug therapy

Caryn Bern, MD, MPH
Section Editor
Peter F Weller, MD, MACP
Deputy Editor
Elinor L Baron, MD, DTMH


Chagas disease is caused by infection with the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. Issues related to antitrypanosomal drugs will be reviewed here.

The approach to management of Chagas disease varies by phase and form of disease and is discussed in detail separately. (See "Chagas disease: Acute and congenital Trypanosoma cruzi infection" and "Chagas disease: Chronic Trypanosoma cruzi infection".)


The only drugs with proven efficacy against Chagas disease in human trials are benznidazole and nifurtimox [1,2]. In general, benznidazole is better tolerated and so is favored by most experts as the first-line treatment for Chagas disease [3]. In addition, compared with nifurtimox, there are more recent clinical trial data for the use of benznidazole, which was used in both pediatric trials in the 1990s [4,5] and in the comparator arm of several new drug trials [6,7]. However, some patients tolerate nifurtimox better than benznidazole; when treatment with one drug must be discontinued, the other can be used as an alternative. Limited human data, supported by findings in animal models, suggest that T. cruzi strains may vary in their drug susceptibility [8-11].

Both benznidazole and nifurtimox are contraindicated in pregnancy, so effective contraception should be assured. In addition, both drugs demonstrate in vitro mutagenicity and have been associated with increased risk of lymphomas in experimental animals [12-15]. No increase in incidence of lymphoma has been observed among immunocompetent humans, although no long-term studies examining this issue have been conducted [16]. An increased incidence of neoplasm was reported in a small series of heart transplantation recipients for Chagas disease [17].

Antitrypanosomal agents are contraindicated in patients with severe renal or hepatic dysfunction.

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Literature review current through: Oct 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 06, 2017.
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