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Does Chagas disease present a health risk to Canadians?

Canadian experts reinforce the importance of prevention and testing for Chagas disease among people from Latin America

Dec 13, 2017

Montreal/Winnipeg – Believe it or not, a tropical blood parasite native to Latin America could be harmful to Canadians. Infectious diseases like malaria or Zika may have dominated recent headlines but Chagas – the “Kissing Bug” disease – is in the spotlight following the publication of a new case study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ). Tropical and laboratory medicine experts from Winnipeg and Montreal warn natives of specific Central and South American nations and their offspring are at risk of contracting Chagas disease - even after they have moved to Canada. The study reports on a family case of transmissions from mother to unborn children, raising questions over prevention and diagnosis of Chagas disease in Canada, where thousands of individuals live with potentially undetected infection.

Chagas disease is caused by a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi, which is mostly found in Latin America and, occasionally, in southern parts of the United States. It spreads through the bite of triatomine - bloodsucking insects targeting a person’s face, referred to as “Kissing bugs.” The parasite is transmitted via the bugs’ feces: The insects defecate while feeding, allowing the parasite to move on to its new host. The disease can spread via transmission from mother to child during pregnancy and from infected blood transfusions or organ transplantation.

“Chagas disease is a real public health problem due to the transmission from mother to child (baby) up to at least three generations,” says co-author Dr. Momar Ndao, a scientist from the Infectious Diseases and Immunity in Global Health Program at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC), and an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at McGill University. “As Chagas disease is not a notifiable communicable disease in Canada, there are little data on the number of undiagnosed, untreated cases.” Learn more