11 things parents need to know about kissing bugs, aka ‘love bugs’ but are NOT, both ARE cousins to BedBug and deadly Chagas Disease


December 4, 2015 | by Dr. Peter Hotez, President of Sabin Vaccine Institute

Experts at the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine have been studying Chagas disease and working on a therapeutic vaccine for it. Here are the important things to know about the kissing bug and about Chagas disease:

1.  Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, is a serious infection caused by a parasitic microorganism, Trypanosoma cruzi, and is transmitted by kissing bugs.

2.  Chagas disease is a leading cause of heart disease resulting in a debilitating and often fatal condition known as Chagasic cardiomyopathy. One in six people with Chagasic cardiomyopathy will die within five years.

3.  An estimated 9 million people are infected in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in impoverished areas. According to the World Health Organization, the largest number of people living with Chagas disease are in poor areas of Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, while Bolivia has the highest percentage of people infected.

4.  The infection can be passed from mother to baby. There are an estimated 40,000 pregnant women in North America alone who have Chagas, and they will transmit the infection to their babies around 5 percent of the time.

5.  The CDC estimates that 300,000 cases occur in the United States, mostly imported from Latin America.

6.  Scientists at the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor, including Drs. Kristy Murray and Melissa Nolan Garcia, have uncovered a previously unrecognized level of transmission in the state of Texas.

7.  A high percentage of the kissing bugs in Texas are infected with the trypanosome parasite and show evidence of feeding on human blood.

8.  Dogs, cats and horses also can be infected.

9.  Researchers are finding cases among hunters and campers, as well as people who live in poverty in Texas. Those with extended outdoor exposure appear to have the greatest risk of acquiring the disease.

10.  Repeat exposures are likely necessary to acquire infection.

11.  Drug treatments are available, but they do not always work and are highly toxic. In collaboration with the Sabin Vaccine Institute and the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, the National School of Tropical Medicine is developing a new therapeutic vaccine for Chagas disease.

About Dr. Peter Hotez, president of Sabin Vaccine Institute: The US Science Envoy, Dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital Chair in Tropical Pediatrics and President-Sabin Vaccine Institute.


Deadly Chagas disease in the U.S., affecting people and animals – primarily dogs. Watch out for “kissing bugs”, aka “love bugs”.

November 18, 2015 | by Robert Herriman | Outbreak News Today

Chagas disease, the parasitic infection caused by Trypanosoma cruzi, is found mainly in Latin America, where it is mostly transmitted to humans by the feces of triatomine bugs, known as “kissing bugs”.

The Triatoma or “kissing” bug. Image/CDC

However, in several areas of the United States Chagas is ever present, according to Dr. Peter Hotez, founding dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, who told me in 2013 the number of cases of Chagas disease in the United States to be somewhere between 300,000 and 1 million. The United States is ranked 7th among nations for the amount of cases.

Texas is definitely one state that is battling the neglected tropical disease. According to Texas health officials:

In Texas, approximately 45% of the collected triatomine bugs have tested positive for T. cruzi, and Chagas is considered an endemic disease in dogs. From 2013 to 2014, 351 cases of Chagas disease in animals, primarily dogs, were reported from approximately 20% of Texas counties, representing all geographic regions of the state. Locally-acquired human cases are uncommon, but some have been reported. From 2013 to 2014, 39 human cases of Chagas disease were reported: 24 were acquired in another country, 12 were locally-acquired, and the location of acquisition was unknown for 3.

Local transmission means that the kissing bugs in Texas are infected with the parasite, causing it to spread to humans.

Chagas disease is transmitted naturally in North, Central, and South America. In parts of Mexico and Central and South America, where Chagas disease is considered highly endemic, it is estimated that approximately 8 million people are infected.

Chagas in Texas/Texas Department of Health

The Triatoma or “kissing” bug frequently carry for life the parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi. T. cruzi is a comma shaped flagellated parasite and the cause of an acute and chronic disease called Chagas.

The triatoma bug can be found in poorly constructed homes, with cracks and crevices in the walls or those with thatch roofs. They can also be found in palm trees and the fronds.

Usually at night while sleeping, the insect feeds on people or other mammals. While feeding the insect defecates and the infected feces gets rubbed into the bite wound, eyes abrasions or other skin wounds.

The parasite invades macrophages at or near the site of entry. Here they transform, multiply and rupture from the cells 4-5 days later and enter the blood stream and tissue spaces.

Initial infection with Chagas is typically asymptomatic. Acute disease may manifest symptoms after a couple of weeks.

Reddening of the skin (Chagoma) or edema around the eye (Romana’s sign) may be seen, albeit uncommon.

Fever, malaise, enlarged liver and spleen are part of the acute syndrome. 10% of people develop acute myocaditis with congestive heart failure. This acute disease can be fatal.

After a latent period which may last for years, the infected person may develop chronic disease (20-40%). The most serious consequences are cardiomyopathy (in certain areas it’s the leading cause of death in men less than 45 years of age) and megacolon/megaesophogus.

Trypanosoma cruzi can also be transmitted via congenital transmission (mother to baby), through blood transfusions and organ transplants, and some cases of transmission through feces contaminated food.

About 150 mammals beside humans may serve as reservoirs of the parasite. Dogs, cats, opossoms and rats are among the animals.

Benznidazole and nifurtimox are 100 percent effective in killing the parasite and curing the disease, but only if given soon after infection at the onset of the acute phase, according to the WHO.

There is no vaccine for Chaga’s, so preventive measures should include insecticide spraying of infested houses.


Arkansans spot the DEADLY ‘kissing bug’ aka ‘love bug’ both cousins to the ‘bed bug’ – all transmit the deadly Chagas disease

August 3, 2014 | Northwest Arkansas News
MAUMELLE, AR — A bug known as the “kissing bug” carrying a deadly disease has reached The Natural State.

On Sunday, a Maumelle couple found one of these bugs just a few feet from their door.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning about a life-threatening illness caused by “kissing bugs” known as Chagas, typically spotted in Texas and Virginia.  The CDC has reported infections in Arkansas, Arizona, Tennessee and Texas and is warning Floridians about the potentially deadly disease.

The Mauellle couple says they were sitting on their porch Saturday when they saw a large bug crawling towards the door. That’s when they captured it and started looking on the internet. They say it’s one of the kissing bugs.

Justin Kurtz said, “Having a two-year-old daughter and a couple of pets laying around. You know I am very concerned over their safety because if you are sleeping in the middle of the night and this thing gets in the house, it can crawl on you then it can bite you. You can contract this potential fatal disease.”

The Arkansas Health Department says they are in the process of getting it listed as a reportable disease. But not all of the kissing bugs carry the disease. If you do find one in your home, contact your local health department.

According to the CDC, there’s usually swelling and redness around the bite area. Also it can cause rash, swollen lymph nodes, head and body aches and vomiting. If it’s not treated, the symptoms could get more severe and impact the heart and tissues of the gastrointestinal tract.

Chagas disease affects about 7 million people worldwide and can cause premature heart failure or gastrointestinal issues. If you suspect you may have contracted the disease, you should see a health care professional right away since the disease can be life-threatening if left untreated. If you find a kissing bug, the CDC says not to touch or squash the bug. Instead, place a container on top of the bug, slide the bug inside, and fill it with rubbing alcohol or freeze the bug in the container. Then, you may take it to your local extension service, health department or a university laboratory for species identification, or contact the CDC’s Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria for identification or testing.

Journey of Show Dog’s Fight with Deadly Chagas Disease


Kiska Lives On–Thanks, Texas A&M


By Susan Chaney

It was already 8 p.m. when 3-year-old Japanese Spitz Kiska started fainting. “I’ve seen dogs have seizures,” says owner Cora Fortin. “It wasn’t like that. It was a faint. She just like wobbled and fell over. In about a minute, she started waking up.” Ten minutes later, Kiska fainted again.

Horrified by this alarming behavior, Fortin and her husband, Roy Nelson, wasted no time in packing her off to a 24-hour emergency clinic in Plano, Texas, where they live.

At the emergency hospital, “They were like ‘Oh, my God. What is it?’” Fortin recalls. “They did an EKG, and they could immediately see that her heartbeat would get faster and faster and faster, then stop.” That’s when Kiska would lose consciousness. Her heart would “start again very faintly,” Fortin says.

It turned out the little dog had a complete atrioventricular block, meaning her heart’s parts weren’t communicating, so it couldn’t function properly.

“We’re like: ‘What do we do?’ We’re thinking, ‘pills, injections?’ He said, ‘There’s nothing you can do except get a pacemaker.’”

Neither Fortin nor her husband even knew dogs could get pacemakers.

Randolph Winter, D.V.M., did the procedure that saved Kiska’s life.

Fortunately for them, Plano is about four and a half hours from College Station, home to the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital where cardiologists implant about 25 pacemakers each year.

The emergency vet “got a cardiologist on the phone, sent the EKG, and the guy said, ‘you need to get that dog down here as fast as you can.’”

After making a quick stop at home to pick up Roxie, their other Japanese Spitz, the couple headed to College Station. Kiska continued to faint, then recover, then faint and recover about every 10 minutes for the entire drive.

The Perfect Little Dog

The white fluff ball came to Cora and Roy’s home as a puppy from a breeder in California.

Prior to that, Roy’s daughter had adopted an American Eskimo that she was told was a Japanese Spitz. “Turned out it wasn’t,” says Cora, who got interested in the breed and did some research. “We decided we wanted one. They’re so cool. No doggie smell at all. I never have to wash them ever. It’s just amazing.”


Roxie and Kiska were reunited three years after Cora Fortin and Roy Nelson got Kiska as a puppy.

Soon after they got Kiska, they knew they’d like to have another dog just like her. So, they contacted her breeder, saying they’d like an adult when one became available. Almost three years later, their email was returned, informing them a female was retiring from breeding and could be purchased.

In the course of working out the details, Cora got a photo of the dog. She thought she looked a lot like Kiska. She soon learned that the now 7-year-old Roxie was Kiska’s mother.

When Roy and Cora got Roxie to their house, they immediately let her out of her kennel and took her to the backyard to relieve herself. While she was outside, Cora let Kiska out of her kennel. She says Kiska sniffed Roxie’s kennel. “You could tell her attitude was, ‘there’s a dog in my house.’ Then she got really excited. You could see the recognition on her face.”

Next, they let Kiska into the backyard. “They recognized each other immediately. They ran circles around each other for half an hour. It was so cool!” Today, Cora and Roy joke that Kiska’s mother “moved to Texas to retire with her.”

It wasn’t long after Roxie joined the family that Kiska had her fainting episode.

Finally in College Station

It took hours of nighttime driving, during which Kiska continued to faint, for the distressed family to reach College Station. When the couple walked into Texas A&M, the staff was waiting. “Roy had Kiska in his arms. A woman jumped up from behind the counter and asked, ‘Is this Kiska?’ They did the surgery that night.”

Implanting a pacemaker is a pretty straightforward procedure. The battery goes into a pocket under the muscle on the back of the neck. A lead runs down to the heart to regulate its beating.

“She went through it very well,” Cora says. “They kept her most of the next day just to make sure everything was working well. At 3 p.m., we were able to take her home.”

Kiska was lethargic after the procedure which implanted a pacemaker in the back of her neck.

The couple piled up pillows and blankets on the back seat for the ride home. Because she was taking pain medication and antibiotics, Kiska was “fairly lethargic” during the drive. She sported a bright blue bandage around her neck and chest to protect the two tiny incisions, and, once home, was ensconced on her favorite couch. “We had to try not to let her do much jumping or running for the first couple of weeks,” Cora says, a tall order for the enthusiastic dog who likes to chase bugs and lizards, and run around the backyard with Roxie.

After one month, Kiska had a checkup in College Station and had her bandages removed.

It’s the Bug’s Fault!

It turns out that Kiska wasn’t born with a heart condition, nor did she have some genetic predisposition to develop a problem. Most likely she ate a kissing bug. Yes, a bug. From the bug’s fecal material, which carried the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, Kiska developed Chagas’ disease, a common illness in South and Central America in both people and animals that’s been creeping into the southern United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s now on the CDC’s list of neglected parasitic infections targeted for public health action.

Just like canine pacemakers, Cora and Roy had never heard of kissing bugs or Chagas, but Cora’s certain the bug was probably living in the brick terraces of their backyard and curious Kiska got hold of one.

After the parasite is ingested – or enters through the skin or mucous membrane – symptoms can emerge, such as fever or swelling where the parasite entered. Or there can be none, as in Kiska’s case.

However, once the infection, sometimes called American trypanosomiasis, takes hold, it is never completely gone. An animal or person might live an entire life with no further evidence of the condition. Or, it may do life-threatening damage.

Kiska’s bandages were removed a month after she got her pacemaker. “You would never know” she’d had anything wrong with her, according to her owner Cora Fortin.

Kiska’s was the first case of a dog being diagnosed with Chagas’ disease in northern Texas, Fortin says. Since then, at least five more dogs have died after contracting it. “Lord knows how many others,” she says, because it’s only identifiable by a blood test. And if a dog has no symptoms, then dies from organ failure, the true cause is unlikely to be discovered without a necropsy – a canine autopsy.

Almost as Good as New

In April 2012, Kiska had her six-month checkup. “Everything’s great,” Fortin reports. “You would never know anything was wrong. You wouldn’t know it unless I told you.”

Cora and Roy are so grateful that Kiska wears a Texas A&M collar now, despite the fact that he is a huge Oklahoma fan and their home has its own “Oklahoma room.”

Because of the pacemaker’s placement, Kiska walks on a harness now, rather than a leash. A mobile groomer comes to the house because the shop where she was previously groomed was concerned about the possibility of something happening while there. Her boarding kennel has also declined to house her since the surgery.

“We work around it,” Fortin says. Kiska now stays with friends when Cora and Roy travel.

Although the pacemaker keeps Kiska’s heart working and would normally give her a full life span, it is possible that the Chagas will re-emerge in the future. What organ might be affected is unknown.

That just makes the couple more appreciate their time with Kiska.

Soon she will turn 4, and Cora says that “every day that we have with her is a blessing that Texas A&M gave to us.”

Susan Chaney

Susan Chaney

Susan Chaney has been on the editorial side of publishing since 1990, starting her career as a newspaper features writer and editor. A lifelong lover of dogs, Susan has lived with German Shepherds, Labs, Yorkies, an Irish Setter, a Great Dane-Bloodhound mix, a Sheltie and currently a Chihuahua mix of unknown pedigree. She was the editor of Dog Fancy magazine, content editor of DogChannel.com and group editor of Dog World, Dogs USA, Puppies USA, Natural Dog, Cat Fancy, Cats USA and Kittens USA from March 2005 to December 2009 when she left her position to work at home, part-time. Susan lives in Long Beach, Calif., with her artist husband, Tim, that Chi mix and two big cats. As an editor and writer for Best In Show Daily, she is reveling in the amalgam of three loves: writing, editing and dogs.

CDC: ‘Kissing Bug’ Found in Georgia

Fox_5 ATLANTA, GA | November 23, 2015

A deadly insect known as the “kissing bug” has made its way to Georgia, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The bug has been in headlines lately for popping up around the south, especially in Texas.


It carries a parasite that causes Chagas disease, according to health officials.

The CDC said residents should double check around their homes for cracks and holes, because they tend to hide under beds and mattresses.

If you find the bug the CDC said do not touch it, but rather, put a container on top of it and fill it with rubbing alcohol or freeze it.

Houston – central to Chagas epidemic in North America

Baylor College of Medicine Cardiovascular Research Instute Study

Chagas’ disease (Trypanosoma cruzi infection) is increasing in recognition as an important emerging infectious disease and cause of severe heart disease in the United States. Houston is a major gateway city in the Americas and projected to be central to the emerging Chagas epidemic in North America.

Screening of blood donors in the greater Houston area for T. cruzi began in 2007. This study aimed to describe any cardiac abnormalities among Chagas (T. cruzi positive) blood donors using a cross-sectional study design.


  • 66% (20/30) of Blood Donors had Two or More Positive Tests
  • 40% (8/20) had a related abnormal Electrocardiogram finding
  • 40% (8/20) were suspected locally acquired cases
  • 63% (5/8) locally acquired cases had cardiac abnormalities


  • T. cruzi infection can cause cardiac manifestations even in persons without traditional risk factors
  • Blood donor screening is an effective tool for identifying locally acquired Chagas cases
  • Rural areas seem to be associated with increased risk for Chagas disease

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