Kissing Bug Linked to Fatal Chagas Disease in the U.S.

Don’t let its affectionate name fool you, the “kissing bug” has been found to carry a deadly disease. According to a report released by the American Heart Association, this insect transmits a rare parasitic disease that can result in heart failure or Chagas disease.

The report stated, “Chagas disease, caused by infection with a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi), causes chronic heart disease in about one-third of those infected. Over the past 40 years, Chagas disease has spread to areas where it had not traditionally been seen, including the United States.”

Even though this bug is commonly found in Central and South America affecting nearly 8 million people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that this insect infected 300,000 people in the U.S. in several states, including Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Arizona, Massachusetts and Arkansas.

Many people affected with Chagas disease don’t usually develop any symptoms or signs, but about 30 percent of those who have come in contact with the parasite have become gravely ill.

For those who aren’t familiar with Chagas disease, it is an infectious disease caused by a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi. The parasite spreads to people and animals through the kissing bug, Triatomine, which carries the parasite in its feces.

The kissing bug’s interesting name is attributed to its tendency to bite lips or around the mouth and sometimes the eyes, which makes room for the parasite to enter. The parasite can hide in the body for years.

Serious cases of Chagas disease will cause heart complications like irregular heartbeat, heart muscle malfunction, cardiac arrest, stroke or even sudden death.

Initial symptoms of this disease may include the following:

There may also be swelling where that bite occurred and where the parasite entered the body, but these symptoms usually go away in a few days or weeks. In rare cases, children affected can develop inflammation of the heart muscle or brain.

Co-author Caryn Bern, M.D., M.P.H., professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California in San Francisco released a statement regarding the epidemic. “Early detection of Chagas disease is critical, allowing prompt initiation of therapy when the evidence for cure is strong.”

The risk of being exposed to this infection is fairly low among most travelers and residents in countries where the disease is regularly found. To reduce this risk, people staying in or visiting affected countries should avoid staying in houses with thatch roofs or un-plastered walls and avoid drinking acai fruit juice, unpasteurized cane juice and other juices.

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“Chagas Disease, Caused by a Parasite, Has Spread Outside of Latin America and Carries a High Risk of Heart Disease.” Late-Onset Asthma Linked to Increased Heart Disease, Stroke Risk | American Heart Association,