A bug called the "kissing bug" sounds cute, right? However, names can be deceiving. This bug is the opposite of cute, as its kiss involves sucking your blood. In sucking human blood, the kissing bug can spread a parasite that causes Chagas disease. This disease is a problem in the tropical climates of Central and South America, but is very rare in the United States. However, it is starting to spread to the southern states, especially Texas. Researchers are still investigating why, but they believe climate change is a large factor.
So, what is Chagas disease and its symptoms? It's important to know, because many American doctors aren't trained to recognize the symptoms. First, Chagas disease is a parasitic infection, meaning that the kissing bug transmits a parasite that its carries through a bite or through their feces. The bug is known to bite sleeping people on the thin skin around their eyes or mouth.
Once someone has the parasite, it may take months and even years for symptoms to manifest. Symptoms are also vague and flu-like: fever, fatigue, body aches, diarrhea, and vomiting. The most significant symptom is swelling eyelids on the side of the person's body that was bitten. However, Chagas disease can also cause blood clots, heart failure, fainting, and death.
Besides through a kissing bug bite, the disease can be spread through blood transfusion, organ transplants, eating infected insects, or eating raw food. The disease can be treated once diagnosed over a two-month period.
Don't panic, though. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of infected is about 300,000 people in the United States, though that is only an estimate as some people may be carriers with no symptoms. This number skyrockets in tropical countries, with the number estimated as high as 20 million.
Check out the whole NBC investigation on the bug here:
The tsetse fly transmits a similar parasite that can cause African Sleeping Sickness. Learn more about it here: