World Chagas Disease Day 2021: Helping Doctors Have Aha! Moments

Chagas disease is an underrecognized parasitic infection that affects approximately 300,000 people in the United States and can be passed from mother to baby: as many as 300 babies are born with Chagas disease every year and most are undiagnosed. If left untreated, Chagas disease can cause heart failure, stroke, and even death. The key to preventing these avoidable outcomes is to educate healthcare providers so they can make the diagnosis and give life-saving treatment.

The World Health Organization estimates 6–7 million people worldwide have Chagas disease and as many as 10,000 die from the disease each year. In the United States, approximately 300,000 people have Chagas disease.

blood sucking triatomine

Triatomine bugs (“kissing bugs”) transmit the parasite that causes Chagas disease.

CDC’s Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria (DPDM) provides essential information and services for healthcare providers and state and private labs around the country. When a healthcare provider is met with a difficult-to-diagnose parasitic disease, CDC’s experts are available 24/7 to help out. Our real goal, though, is to help give physicians the knowledge they need to have “Aha! I know what this is!” moments when they encounter a Chagas disease patient.

“We talk all the time to physicians who remember a Chagas disease lecture back in medical school but haven’t thought about it since,” says Dr. Sue Montgomery, one of CDC’s Chagas disease experts. “At CDC, we provide confirmatory diagnoses for Chagas disease, make sure physicians have the information they need to correctly manage patients, and help them find the medicine their patients require.”

Raising awareness of Chagas disease in the United States

Today, approximately 40,000 women of childbearing age living in the United States have chronic Chagas disease and most are unaware that they have an infection that can be passed to their children. CDC and its partners are working to protect these mothers and babies.

Most people with Chagas disease don’t realize it. They often are not diagnosed until the disease reaches its late stages and causes symptoms, sometimes decades after they were infected. Therefore, it is crucial that healthcare providers recognize their patients who might be at risk. CDC works to ensure healthcare providers have resources available to help them identify and treat patients with Chagas disease.

Since 2015, CDC has been working with partners to improve healthcare provider awareness of Chagas disease, and other less well known, often neglected parasitic infections in the United States.

Over the past five years, CDC has funded partners to develop new strategies, educational tools, materials, and guidelines to improve awareness and prevention of Chagas disease.

Here are some examples:

  • Boston Medical Center collaborators are using a successful screening program called Strong Heartsexternal icon as a model and expanding to other sites across Massachusetts. The goal is to screen pregnant mothers for Chagas disease and then test and treat infants.
  • New York’s Einstein College of Medicine is working with healthcare providers around New York City to develop Chagas centers of excellence to screen and treat patients at risk. They are also organizing opportunities—including an upcoming symposium on Chagas disease and transplantexternal icon—to educate physicians, examine gaps in knowledge, provide networking, and answer questions about Chagas disease.
  • Texas State University partners are continuing efforts of the Texas Chagas Taskforce to educate providers, including community health workers, and offer support across the United States.

In addition, CDC raises awareness and improves diagnosis and treatment of Chagas disease through continuing medical education materials and patient and provider educational information. Until 2020, CDC also provided medications for U.S. physicians treating patients with Chagas disease. Now, the two drugs used to treat Chagas disease in the United States have FDA approval and are available with a prescription. CDC continues to provide diagnostic testing and 24/7 consultations to healthcare providers.

To read more about CDC’s strategies for addressing Chagas disease and other parasitic diseases in the United States and abroad, please see DPDM’s 2021–2025 Strategic Prioritiespdf icon.

CDC Commemorates World Chagas Disease Day

Today, CDC joins partners around the world in raising awareness about Chagas disease.

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Page last reviewed: April 14, 2020