Page last updated at 00:59 GMT, Wednesday, 14 April 2010 01:59 UK

Parasite 'a growing stroke risk'

nymph carrying Chagas
A blood-sucking bug passes on the Chagas parasite

A tropical parasitic disease is becoming an increasingly common cause of stroke, experts say.

Some 18m people worldwide have Chagas disease, caused by an infection with the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi.

Recently, researchers discovered having this disease puts the individual at increased risk of stroke due to heart complications and blood clots.

In Lancet Neurology, the Spanish team warns of a growing but neglected stroke burden as the infected population ages.

Chagas disease is endemic in Latin America.

Its prevalence in these communities is worrying
Sharlin Ahmed of The Stroke Association

But emigration of millions of people to Europe, North America, Japan and Australia over the past 20 years has also made Chagas disease an emerging health problem in these countries with the potential to cause a substantial disease burden, say the investigators.

One study estimates that more than 300,000 Latin American immigrants with Chagas disease could be living in the US.

Another problem, say the research team, is that many patients with Chagas disease do not know they are infected.

Silent killer

Dr Francisco Javier Carod-Artal from the Virgen de la Luz hospital in Cuenca said a recent study showed that in just under half of Chagas patients treated for a stroke had not yet been diagnosed with the infection.

He and colleague Joaquim Gascon, from Barcelona, say stroke patients from endemic countries should be screened for Chagas.

And doctors and the public need to be made aware of the increased risk of stroke with this disease.

"Clinical trials are needed," they add, to assess if blood thinning drugs might help prevent stroke in Chagas.

Sharlin Ahmed of the Stroke Association said Chagas disease could lead to severe heart problems, which then put people at risk of stroke.

"The heart becomes weaker and is unable to pump blood as strongly resulting in the formation of blood clots, which if transported to the brain can cause a stroke.

"Its prevalence in these communities is worrying and it is vital that education on the symptoms of stroke is included as part of ongoing health awareness programs."

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