A study led by Dr. José Muñoz, MD at Hospital Clinic and ISGlobal researcher, in collaboration with researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, shows that the estimated prevalence of Chagas disease among Latin-American migrants that reside in Europe differs from the one observed in their countries of origin. The results, published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, indicate that 4.2% of the overall Latin-American population living in Europe is affected by Chagas disease, and underline the need for establishing disease prevention and control strategies within European countries.
Until now, most estimations on Chagas prevalence among Latin-American immigrants had been calculated on the basis of the infection prevalence in the countries of origin. However, given the geographical diversity of each country and the fact that the migrants may not be representative of the general population, the ISGlobal researchers hypothesized that the percentage of people with Chagas disease among the immigrant population in Europe is different to that observed in Latin American countries.
Therefore, the goal of the study was to estimate the prevalence of infection by T. cruzi (the parasite that causes the disease) among Latin Americans that have migrated to Europe. For this, the authors performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of all published articles in 15 European countries (notably those with the largest Latin-American population: Spain, Italy, United Kingdom and Switzerland) and included studies performed in blood banks, maternity wards and primary health centres or community studies. The results revealed that the prevalence of infection among immigrants from some countries such as Bolivia and Paraguay was much higher than the national estimates (18.3% versus 6.75% for Bolivia), due to the fact that many of them come from hyperendemic regions. In contrast, for other countries such as Argentina, the observed prevalence was lower than the estimated national prevalence.
In Europe, Chagas disease cannot be transmitted via the vector (because it is not present), but it can be transmitted via blood transfusions, organ transplantation and, in pregnant women, from mother to child. For these reasons, explains Dr. Ana Requena-Méndez, first author of the study and ISGlobal researcher, "these results are important for understanding the magnitude of the problem among Latin-American immigrants and improving intervention strategies in blood banks, transplantation units and maternity wards".
"Precise data on the prevalence of Chagas disease among different Latin-American populations living in Europe will help design and implement disease control strategies adapted to the reality of each European country", concludes Dr. Muñoz.