Kissing Bugs…Love Bugs…Bedbugs
all transmit Chagas disease
Good Housekeeping | November 19, 2015 | By Asher Fogle
Kissing bugs are every bit as invasive and icky as the name implies: They often bite human faces and lips at night, leaving behind a parasite that causes Chagas disease. Now, there are at least a dozen people infected in Texas, and experts predict that number to rise.
The bugs, a species of triatomine, are found throughout the state and most carry the parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi — described by researchers as a silent killer.
“I’ve never left the United States. I’ve never even been on a cruise,” Candace Stark, a LaGrange, Texas, woman who learned she had Chagas in 2013, told NBC 5. A month after she had donated blood, the bank sent her a letter that said their routine screening found Trypanosoma cruzi in her blood. And a second test from the CDC confirmed she had the parasite in her body.
“I was scared,” she said. “I was really scared, because everything I read about it was about your heart and what it would do to you.”
No approved Chagas vaccine or cure exists. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only have experimental drugs, which are reportedly only 85% effective and must be taken shortly after infection.
To infect someone, kssing bugs leave feces near a bite, which itches. When it’s scratched, the feces are driven under the skin and into the bloodstream. Stark couldn’t remember being bitten. But months after her diagnosis, she found a kissing bug in the closet of her parents’ ranch. Texas A&M researchers confirmed it contained the parasite.
And Baylor Medical Schools researchers have found that most of the kissing bugs in Texas also contain the parasite. Even worse: The majority of bugs tested in the lab had human blood in their system — meaning they had already potentially infected people.
Though kissing bugs have been present in the region for decades, researchers say more people are encountering them as once-rural land is developed into suburbs. People who live near wooded areas are at higher risk, NBC 5 reports. Experts recommend that you avoid stacking wood near your house and ensure there are no places where small animals can nest because they attract the bugs.
Though no other outbreaks have been found, kissing bugs are also commonly found in New Mexico, Arizona, and California. And Chagas infections were reported in California, Louisiana, and Tennessee.
Health officials suggest you contact your doctor and the state health department if you find kissing bugs in your home or suspect you have been bitten.