What is the Kissing Bug?
“Kissing bugs” have been invading headlines for the past two weeks as the CDC has reported the deadly bug has made its way into the United States. They’ve been found in 28 states. Estimates of human cases of Chagas disease in the US range from 300,000 to over 1 million, with particular concern for those living in the US/Mexico border regions. An estimated 9 million people are infected in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in impoverished areas. According to the World Health Organization, the largest number of people living with Chagas disease are in poor areas of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Mexico.
How concerned should you be?
Kissing Bugs transmit Chagas, a chronic heart disease caused by the blood parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. Chagas infection is strongly linked with poverty, and kissing bugs are mostly found in homes with dirt floors and in poor repair. If you spend lots of time outdoors in wooded areas, then you might need to think about controlling your exposure to these bugs. A high percentage of the kissing bugs in Texas are infected with the trypanosome parasite and show evidence of feeding on human blood. Dogs also can be infected.
Kissing bugs are a relative of bed bugs, and they both feed the same way. They stick a beaky straw into your skin and drink your blood. It’s not the bite that transmits the disease. Kissing bugs poop after they feed, and if the bug is infected, its poop contains the parasite. When you scratch the itchy bite there is a chance you will rub the bug feces into the wound. Unless you get poop from an infected bug under your skin you won’t get infected with Chagas.
If you manage to be bitten by one of these bugs, and if a very specific set of circumstances occur, odds are you still won’t be infected. Research suggests that it can take more than 900 bites for transmission to occur.
Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, still should not be taken lightly. It is a leading cause of heart disease resulting in a debilitating and often fatal condition known as Chagasic cardiomyopathy. One in six people with Chagasic cardiomyopathy will die within five years.
How can you avoid your exposure?
Start by reducing the amount of debris and vegetation directly around your home, such as leaf piles and stacks of wood. This also reduces places that rodents might nest, since they are known hosts of kissing bugs. Repair cracks and gaps in homes; make sure screens and doors are tight. Outdoor lights will sometimes attract kissing bugs; minimizing the amount of lights left on at night around your home may help.
For more information on Kissing Bugs and Changas disease visit the CDC directly at http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/chagas/gen_info/vectors/. Here at Shepard Medical our mission is to help keep you safe from infectious diseases; as always tweet any questions to us at @ShepardMedical.