Experts: Beware of the “Kissing Bug”
This Tuesday, tropical medicine experts gathered at an annual meeting and warned of a potentially life-threatening illness known as the "kissing" bug disease. According to the experts, the disease is making its way onto U.S. soil.
The kissing bug disease, known as Chagas, is caused by the parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi. Once infected, the kissing bugs spread and suck the blood from people's faces. The illness can lead to heart problems, intestinal complications and death. For a while now, Chagas cases were mainly concentrated in Mexico, Central American and South America. However, in 2012, experts started to address their fears that Chagas could globalize.
The team of experts from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX headed by epidemiologist Melissa Nolan Garcia set out to examine the extent of Chagas in the U.S. The team followed 17 patients who were infected from the Houston area. The team concluded that at least six of them were infected locally. The majority of the patients had spent time outdoors or lived in rural areas.
"We are finding new evidence that locally acquired human transmission is occurring in Texas," Nolan Garcia stated reported by Philly.
Nolan Garcia and her colleagues also captured 40 kissing bugs from 11 central-southern Texas counties. 73 percent of the bugs were carrying the parasite and about half of the bugs had sucked human blood. The bugs also fed on at least 10 animals, which included dogs and raccoons.
Furthermore, the team tested blood samples donated in Texas from 2008 to 2012 and discovered that one in every 6,500 donors had been exposed to the bug. This rate is about 50 times greater than the rate estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"We were astonished to not only find such a high rate of individuals testing positive for Chagas in their blood, but also high rates of heart disease that appear to be Chagas-related," Nolan Garcia said in a statement released by the tropical medicine society reported by the Washington Post.
She added, "Physicians should consider Chagas when patients have swelling and enlargement of the heart not caused by high blood pressure, diabetes or other causes, even if they do not have a history of travel."
The researchers stressed the importance of increasing doctors' awareness of this illness.
According to the CDC, the infection can also spread via blood transfusions, organ transplants and congenital transfer from mother to child. It affects about seven to eight million people throughout the world.
The research was presented at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Meeting taking place in New Orleans, LA.