Dr. Dowaa Saleh
Clinical Manager, Medical Education, MedShr
Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, is a potentially life-threatening illness caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi.
What do we know about Chagas disease?
About 6–7 million people worldwide are estimated to be infected with T. cruzi. The disease is prevalent in endemic regions of 21 Latin American countries, where it is transmitted to humans and other mammals primarily through contact with the faeces or urine of triatomine bugs (vector-borne) — also known as kissing bugs, among other common names, depending on the region.
Why is early diagnosis crucial?
Trypanosoma cruzi infection is curable if treated promptly after infection. Antiparasitic treatment can potentially prevent or slow disease progression and transmission. Up to 30% of chronically infected people experience cardiac changes, and 10% experience digestive, neurological or mixed changes that may require specialised treatment.
The vast majority of Chagas disease patients are asymptomatic until they develop severe, usually irreversible cardiac or gastrointestinal symptoms and complications. If left untreated, Chagas disease can be a significant cause of heart failure, stroke, arrhythmias and unexpected death.
Patients are frequently treated by medical professionals who are unfamiliar with Chagas disease.
Doctors are unfamiliar with Chagas disease
The burden of cardiovascular complications in Chagas disease is highlighted as the leading cause of mortality from this infection, particularly cardiomyopathy and arrhythmia. Chagas cardiomyopathy has a poor prognosis when compared to other types of cardiomyopathy, such as hypertensive heart disease, idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy and ischemic cardiomyopathy. Despite these challenges, Chagas disease is still largely ignored, with insufficient diagnostic, therapeutic and prognostic advances. Patients are frequently treated by medical professionals who are unfamiliar with Chagas disease.
Addressing the global burden
Our responsibility as healthcare professionals is to raise awareness among cardiologists and other clinicians about Chagas disease as a neglected cardiovascular disease. Knowledge-sharing and case discussion are key, with a holistic approach involving both primary care teams and the cardiology community in order to promote early recognition, integrated follow-up approaches, appropriate management and future research needs for cardiovascular disease.
MedShr’s Global Health Program provides free access to case-based learning about Chagas disease and the opportunity to share knowledge and learn from other healthcare professionals around the world.