FAQs: Chagas Disease
What is Chagas disease?
Chagas disease is a parasitic infection. It is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi.
Where is Chagas found?
Chagas disease is most common in Central and South America, as well as Mexico.
Who is affected or at risk?
- People most at risk are those who regularly sleep in poorly constructed houses in rural areas of Central and South America. Houses constructed from materials such as mud, adobe, or thatch, are more likely to be infested.
- Persons with weakened immune systems are at risk of severe infections and complications.
How is Chagas transmitted?
Infections are transmitted mainly by the feces of blood sucking bugs that have the parasite.
- Chagas disease is usually spread by the feces of reduviid bugs, insects that live in cracks and holes of poorly constructed houses and outbuildings in South and Central America. The bugs become infected after biting an infected animal or person. Once infected, the bugs pass Trypanosoma parasites in their feces.
- People get infected when they unknowingly rub bug feces into their eyes or mouth or into a bite wound.
- Infection can be also be transmitted by blood transfusions or organ transplants, particularly in countries where Chagas disease is common.
- An infected woman can rarely pass the infection to her baby during pregnancy, at delivery, or while breastfeeding.
- People can also become infected by eating or drinking uncooked food or juice contaminated with infected bug parts.
Why is there a deferral policy?
Although rare in North America, Chagas can be transfused through blood from an infected donor
Do you test donated blood for Chagas disease?
Canadian Blood Services tests donors who were born or lived in countries where Chagas disease occurs. We also test anyone whose mother or maternal grandmother was born or lived there.
Donors with a travel risk will also be tested for Chagas.
Plasma donors at the following locations will no longer be asked about Chagas disease or tested for it as there is no risk of transmission with these types of donations.
- Sudbury plasma donor centre, 900 Lasalle Boulevard
- Lethbridge plasma donor centre, 3735 Mayor Magrath Drive South
- Kelowna plasma donor centre, 2271 Harvey Avenue (Orchard Park Mall).
What are the signs and symptoms of Chagas disease?
Many people can be infected and never develop symptoms. However, those who do may have fever and swelling at the site of the insect bite. Although most people recover completely, some become chronically infected and can develop heart and gastrointestinal problems.
How is Chagas disease diagnosed?
Chagas disease is diagnosed by a blood test.
How can Chagas be treated?
There are medications available to treat both acute Chagas disease as well as the chronic form.