LUBBOCK, TX – The City of Lubbock Health Department confirmed to EverythingLubbock.com Tuesday that a kissing bug found in Lubbock home has tested positive for Chagas disease.
Now the Health Department is working with the Texas Department of State Health Services and Texas A&M to test dogs in Amarillo and Lubbock for the disease.
“This was the first time any of our Health Department staff had ever seen a positive test result from a kissing bug in our area,” said Katherine Wells, Lubbock’s Director of Public Health.
She explained that back in December a Lubbock citizen notified the Health Department that they had found a bug they believed to be a kissing bug. The citizen first contacted Texas A&M Agrilife Extension IPM agent and entomologist Katelyn Kesheimer.
Keshmeimer recalled that when the resident contacted her first back in October, he told her that he had guests in his home and while cleaning he spotted the bug. He squished the bug and when blood spurted out of it, he grew concerned. He brought the bug to Kesheimer for testing.
Kesheimer explained that kissing bugs are very rare in the Lubbock area, she had not seen one previously and she added that the pest control companies she spoke with in town hardly ever saw them either.
The bug was ultimately identified to be a kissing bug, and after weeks of testing, it tested positive for human blood and for Chagas disease.
According to the CDC, Chagas is caused by a parasite transmitted by insects. The disease can be both symptom free or life threatening. It can cause symptoms such as fever, fatigue, rashes, and swelling of the eyelids. While symptoms usually face on their own, they can sometimes become chronic, leading to an an enlarged heart or esophagus.
Dogs are also susceptible to the disease, explained Dr. James Alexander, Regional Veterinarian for the Zoonosis Control Program for the Texas Department of State Health Services. He explained that humans are unlikely to catch the disease from dogs unless blood from an infected dog gets near a human’s open wound or mucus membrane.
“It can cause heart damage, heart failure, it can also cause esophageal damage, making swallowing of food difficult, as well as bowel damage, causing problems with bowel function,” Dr. Alexander explained. “So we want to know if the organism is here so we can help educate the public, and since dogs are out in the wild where insects can be, we want to look at them.”
Dr. Alexander is working with the Lubbock Health Department to run a study in both Lubbock and Amarillo. They will test blood from 50 shelter dogs at both Lubbock and Amarillo shelters to test for the disease. Then the blood samples will be sent to Texas A&M to test for Chagas.
“It has the potential to cause severe human issues as well as dog issues, dogs can die from it also,” he said. “Dogs that can die from what is described as chronic heart disease may well be actually be Chagas disease causing heart failure.”
Dr. Alexander explained that many Texas dogs have been tested for Chagas, and according to Texas Department of State Health Services Statistics 8.8 percent of those have the disease. However, he said that there has never been a test for Chagas in Region 1 which encompasses the Panhandle and South Plains in Texas. He believes this study will be an important indicator as to how much of a risk Chagas poses in West Texas.
The risk of Chagas is believed to be very low in Lubbock.
However, to keep dogs safe, Dr. Alexander said it is safer not to have them sleep outside at night. If your dogs do sleep outside, remove any lights from near the dog’s kennel because those lights attract bugs. Alexander added that if you believe your pet may be impacted by Chagas, take it to a veterinarian.
Kesheimer added that homeowners and pet owners can cut down on their risk for kissing bugs by sealing up your home, preventing debris piles, and preventing rodents from entering your home.
“They are a lot more common in places like dog kennels and rodent nests outside, but they are attracted to things like light, warmth carbon dioxide, so the things you’re going to have in your house,” Kesheimer said.
“It’s something where we really want to know what the full extent of the risk is, it’s not something people should be scared of scared of, it’s just we really want to understand what the prevalence is in the community,” Katherine Wells said.
She added that if you think you have found a kissing bug, you can bring it to the Health Department for identification. Kesheimer added that you can also bring potential kissing bugs to her at the Agrilife Extension Office for identification as well, call (806)775-1740.
Kesheimer explained that kissing bugs are typically about an inch long, have a cone-shaped beak, and may have orange striping on their sides. If you think you find one, she recommends not touching it with your bare hands. Instead Kesheimer said you should use gloves to put the bug in a plastic bag, then put that bag in the freezer to kill it. After that, you can bring the bug in for identification. She recommends wiping down the area where you found the bug with bleach.