The world is filled with terrifying critters that can put humans in harm’s way, and while all these creatures have weird Latin scientific names, many also have nicknames that make these offending pests and parasites sound even creepier — like the kissing bug.
What makes this, even more, disturbing is that these bugs are becoming infamous for a potential kiss of death… and they could be nesting near you.
Kissing bugs received their name because they usually bite people near their mouth during the night while they sleep. The two main reasons for this is that kissing bugs are attracted to the odors that we exhale, and our face is usually the only exposed area of skin during sleep. Kissing bugs usually do not burrow under covers like some other bugs or spiders do.
Kissing bugs are blood-suckers, like mosquitoes, ticks, and tse-tse flies. They usually feed just after sunset. They are attracted to the light in our houses, the odors that we exhale, skin odors, and to the warmth of our bodies. Kissing bugs who enter a house will feed on household pets as well as humans.
Many people have moderate to severe allergic reactions to the kissing bug bite. Reactions from the bite range from skin irritation and redness to anaphalitic shock requiring immediately medical attention.
Another possible health problem is Chagas Disease. This is caused by a potentially deadly parasite (Trypanosoma cruzi) that lives in the digestive system of the kissing bug and is excreted during defecation or urination of the kissing bug after feeding. If this parasite enters your blood stream through the bite site or an open wound, you might become infected. This is a major health issue in Central and South America where over 18 million people have become infected resulting in 14,000 deaths every year.
Chagas parasite buries itself in heart muscle and the gut and can hide for two decades or more before causing symptoms like fever, rash, sores where the parasite entered the body, vomiting, diarrhea, and swollen eyes. This phase isn’t dangerous to healthy adults, but it is harmful in children or immune-compromised people. In healthy people, the symptoms of the acute phase disappear on their own, and the parasite goes dormant in the body for years.
The second phase, the chronic phase, is when things get dangerous for the parasite’s host. This is when the heart and digestive systems are targeted and damaged. The parasite causes an enlargement of the heart, intestines, or esophagus. An enlarged heart leads to heart failure or an irregular heartbeat, and these things can then lead to a heart attack.
The parasite is infecting Texans from all backgrounds. Chagas is one of about 40 infections known as neglected tropical diseases, so-called because they are largely ignored by governments and drug companies.
But neglected tropical diseases are right at home in Texas. Rising temperatures, oblivious doctors, and high poverty rates mean seven of these infections are already here or fighting to gain a foothold.
In Texas, one in every 6,500 blood donors is infected with Chagas disease. Chances are, if you have it, you don’t know it. That’s because the parasite stays dormant for years and because American doctors are uneducated about the infection.
Chagas disease isn’t new to Texas, and neither is the dime-size kissing bug that spreads the infection. The first case in the U.S. was reported in 1955, and kissing bugs have been spotted in Texas since the early 1800s.
Is it treatable?
In the acute phase, the parasite could be treated easily. First the doctor should make some test to see if there are parasites in the blood then heart test to see if the heart is been affected. Medications must be taken soon after infection in order to be completely effective. But the drugs are less likely to work if the disease is present for a long time in the blood.
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