Cameron County health leaders want the public to be on alert. They said cases of Chagas disease in the Rio Grande Valley are on the rise.
The disease comes from an insect known as the kissing bug. A bite from the bug, followed by a scratch, may lead to a severe illness or possible death.
The Texas A&M Extension Office said there is an increase in the disease across the country.
“Here in the Valley we have, or in Texas, we have several species of this kind of insect,” Raul Villanueva, a Texas A&M Agrilife entomologist, said.
There’s about seven different species. This has prompted new studies to be developed. “There were some reports on the increase of this disease that Texas A&M University have a website where its collecting the insects,” Villanueva said.
Villanueva identifies different species of insects to see if it’s the kissing bug. He is part of a new study helping identify different species.
“The insects are sent to College Station, and then they do the identification with the species and evaluating if the insect has the parasite,” he said.
In Hidalgo County, 364 bugs were sent in 2014. Cameron County wanted seven insects identified. They’ve seen an increase in human cases for the last two years.
“It’s been seven cases, but for this year…three of those cases are from this year,” Cameron County lead epidemiologist Raquel Castillo said.
Castillo said the three cases are from people coming back from another country, such as Central America where the kissing bug originates. “It’s found out of homes made out of adobe and those mud houses,” she said.
Although the disease is not contagious, it can cause severe symptoms to occur. “The acute phase is basically sweating at the infection site, fever, fatigue, rash, body aches,” Castillo said.
For more severe cases there can be irregular heartbeat or sudden cardiac arrest.
Castillo and Villanueva said the best way to prevent an encounter with the kissing bug, or like species, is to maintain a hygienic environment.
There is no cure for Chagas disease, but there are treatments for the symptoms. Castillo said anyone with the symptoms must seek medical attention and report the case to their local health department.
The disease not only affects human, but pets as well. It could cause heart failure in dogs. A Cameron County veterinarian said they’ve seen an increase in Chagas disease cases.