The Kissing Bug and Chagas Disease
State health officials tell NBC 5 Investigates that kissing bugs have infected at least one dozen Texans with a parasite that causes Chagas disease. Chagas disease is typically found in the tropics, which makes the connection a hidden threat.
You can recognize a kissing bug by its cone-shaped head, thin antennae, and thin legs. Each species in the U.S. is mainly black or very dark brown, with red, orange or yellow stripes on the edge of their backs.
The large bug has been turning up all over the state of Texas. Unfortunately, research is showing that most of them are carrying a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi, which doctors describe as a silent killer. It could be years before someone notices the symptoms of this parasite. Chagas often starts with flu-like symptoms, but in some patients can lead to life-threatening heart problems and even death.
According to NBC, The details of how they infect people aren’t pretty. It happens when the bug leaves its feces near the bite, which may itch and gets scratched, driving the feces under the skin and into the bloodstream.
Sarah Hamer, a researcher at Texas A&M has a website that asks people to send in the kissing bug so that her team can track where in Texas people are finding them. Most of the bugs that have been received are from South Central Texas. In North Texas, they have found bugs in Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton.
Ed Wozniak, a researcher with the Texas Department of State Health says “Most of my collection was focused around houses, and that’s what’s alarming.”
Researchers told NBC that people who live near a wooded area might be at higher risk. It is best to avoid stacking wood around the home as the bugs like to hide in wood piles.
For now, the standard pest control treatment seem to be working. However, if you believe you have found a kissing bug, send it to Texas A&M for testing.
Texas A&M says “if you find kissing bugs in your home or suspect you have been bitten health officials suggest you contact your doctor or the Texas Department of State Health Services to discuss testing for the parasite.”