The kissing bug causes something called Chagas Disease, and it has just been deemed deadlier than previously thought.

What is Chagas Disease? Spread by insects given the name “kissing bugs,” they infect humans by biting them on or around the lips while they sleep. After the initial bite, the kissing bugs then defecate into the wound, spreading the Chagas Disease via their fecal matter.

Disgusting, yes, but what might even more disturbing is that a new report published in the journal PLOS Onestates that the kissing bug Chagas Disease can lay asymptomatic in the human body for years and years before finally attacking the heart and killing the host. As such, the World Health Organization is realizing that Chagas Disease may be one of the most under reported and misdiagnosed diseases on the planet. Given the length of time between infection and the appearance of symptoms can stymie most physicians when the victim realizes that something’s wrong. Individuals often don’t realize that they even have a Chagas Disease infection from a kissing bug until they fall deathly ill, or until their blood is screened when they attempt to donate it. As the Chagas Disease eventually attacks the heart, often the ultimate, fatal effect of a kissing bug’s bite is misdiagnosed as heart failure. The disease caused by the kissing bug doesn’t attack the heart all at once. Instead, it attacks it slowly, mildly eating away at it until it is too far gone to recover, hence the confusion between Chagas Disease and a heart failure diagnosis.

Though the recent study was conducted in South America, the kissing bug is not some far-off exotic creature that lives a world away. In fact, the Chagas Disease-causing insects have been discovered in half of the United States, though the kissing bug disease is more prevalent in the Southern United States.

In the kissing bug study that was published in the journal PLOS One, researchers from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, looked at a group of 8,500 subjects, between the years of 1996 and 2000. The researchers looked at all the blood that was donated by the test subjects and determined what percentage of it was infected with Chagas Disease. Of the subjects, 5,684 of them tested negative for Chagas Disease and 2,842 tested positive. It was determined that 159 of the subjects tested positive for Chagas Disease and died during the course of the study. However, the researchers found that the kissing bug disease was not often listed as the cause of death.

As of right now, the Centers for Disease Control states that there are about 6 million people on the planet that are currently infected with Chagas Disease and about 300,000 in the United States. What is interesting is that most infections in the United States actually occurred via a kissing bug bite that happened while the individual was traveling abroad. In a Chagas Disease research study conducted just last year, it was determined that the states with the most prevalent amount of kissing bug infections are New York, California, Florida, and Texas. There was a correlation in that study that made the link between the high number of immigrants in those states and the higher amount of Chagas Disease.

According to the Center for Disease Control, if an American is diagnosed with Chagas Disease from a kissing bug bite, the only way to treat it is via medicine from the CDC itself. Those with suppressed immune systems and all children are particularly susceptible to the disease. If an infection is suspected, the CDC advises to consult with their healthcare professional on how to go about acquiring the proper medication.

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