Evidence of Trypanosoma cruzi infection (Chagas' disease) among patients undergoing cardiac surgery

David A. Leiby, Francisco J. Rentas, Kenrad E. Nelson, Veronica A. Stambolis, Paul M. Ness, Cheryl Parnis, Hugh A. McAllister, David H. Yawn, Robert J. Stumpf, Louis V. Kirchhoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Background - Trypanosoma cruzi, the agent of Chagas' heart disease, is transmitted by triatomine insects and by blood transfusion. The emigration of several million people from T cruzi-endemic countries to the United States has raised concerns regarding a possible increase in cases of Chagas' heart disease here, as well as an increased risk of transfusion-transmitted T cruzi. To investigate these 2 possible outcomes, we tested a repository of blood specimens from multiply transfused cardiac surgery patients for antibodies to T cruzi. Methods and Results - Postoperative blood specimens from 11 430 cardiac surgery patients were tested by enzyme immunoassay, and if repeat-reactive, were confirmed by radioimmunoprecipitation. Six postoperative specimens (0.05%) were confirmed positive. Corresponding preoperative specimens, available for 4 of these patients, were also positive. The other 2 patients had undergone heart transplantations. Tissue samples from their excised hearts were tested for T cruzi by polymerase chain reaction and were positive. Despite the fact that several of these 6 patients had histories and clinical findings suggestive of Chagas' disease, none of them were diagnosed with or tested for it. Patient demographics showed that 5 of 6 positive patients were Hispanic, and overall, 2.7% of Hispanic patients in the repository were positive. Conclusions - No evidence for transfusion-transmitted T cruzi was found. All 6 seropositive patients apparently were infected with T cruzi before surgery; however, a diagnosis of Chagas' disease was not known or even considered in any of these patients. Indeed, Chagas' disease may be an underdiagnosed cause of cardiac disease in the United States, particularly among patients born in countries in which T cruzi is endemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2978-2982
Number of pages5
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 12 2000


  • Chagas' disease
  • Heart diseases
  • Surgery
  • Transfusion
  • Trypanosoma cruzi

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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