When Lynn Kaufer Hodson was bitten by a triatomine, also known as a “kissing bug,” she couldn’t even feel it. It wasn’t until a large, itchy lump appeared on her neck the next day that she realized some type of pest had sucked her blood.
Hodson had been staying with family in a camper on her ranch in Grass Valley, Calif., in November 2016 while she waited to move into her new home in Penn Valley — a town that was a roughly 30-minute drive away.
At first, Hodson just believed a spider or mosquito had bitten her while she was staying in a fifth wheel camper. But weeks went by, and the bite mark continued to throb and itch.
“It was super itchy for like two or three weeks,” Hodson, 49, recalled to Fox News, though she admitted she initially decided against going to the doctor.
It wasn’t until two months later that Hodson learned — by accident — the type of deadly bug that had actually bitten her.
In January 2017, Hodson decided to donate blood, as she routinely did once a quarter. Weeks later, the wife and mother received a shocking letter in the mail from the American Red Cross that revealed there were signs she had been infected with the rare parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which triggers a dangerous illness called Chagas disease.
Hodson immediately underwent follow-up testing at the Center of Excellence for Chagas Disease at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, where doctors confirmed she had contracted Chagas.
The 49-year-old had to wait two months, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prioritized high risk patients such as pregnant women and those with AIDS, before she could get any medications to treat the infection.
“There is no urgency, no concern, no anything with this disease right now.”
“They say if you get it treated right away research shows it’s effective,” Hodson said. “What’s right away? I had to wait five months, so how I looked at it was — I have it. It’s either going to affect me or it’s not.”
At least 8 million people have been infected with Chagas disease in Central and South America and Mexico, according to the CDC‘s most recent report in December 2017. And an estimated 300,000 Americans in the U.S. also have the illness, a recent news release from the American Heart Association shows.
However, Hodson said the disease is called the “silent killer” because many people don’t show any symptoms. Therefore, she estimates the number of those infected to be even higher.
Kissing bugs spread the infection by biting a human, typically on their face (hence the nickname), and then defecating near the wound. The parasite can then get rubbed into the open wound or get into the body if someone touches their mouth or eyes afterward.
Chagas disease can cause life-threatening heart issues, including heart disease, strokes, arrhythmias and cardiac arrest. About one-third of those infected will develop chronic heart disease, according to the AHA.
“There is no urgency, no concern, no anything with this disease right now. Not many people have it; it’s not a sexy thing. You can’t see it,” Hodson said, explaining that she’s hoping to “put a face” to the disease so others will take it seriously.
“It comes down to politics,” she argued.
Hodson currently sees a cardiologist once a year for an echocardiogram and electrocardiogram. She also wears a Holter monitor for 48 hours after every check-up to monitor her heart activity. That’s all she says she can do at the moment.
“I’m a total Type A control freak, but this is so beyond anyone’s control. You can live your life stressed and worried about it or you can just live your life,” Hodson said. “Life is short. You hope you’re okay and you live your life.”