Today, many people and pets in North and South America face a growing threat from the spread of the “kissing” bug. This insect sometimes transmits a potentially deadly blood-borne infection called “Chagas Disease”. The insects themselves acquire infection with Chagas Disease by feeding on blood carrying protozoa. The protozoa will multiply in the guts of the insects during their roughly two-year lifespans. The infection cycle disgusts most people.
Also known as the “Assassin Bug”, the cone-nosed “kissing bugs” emerge from cracks in residential walls, window ledges and storage areas to bite people and animals at night. In the wild, these insects often inhabit brushy areas, and piles of rock or wood. They feed on blood at night from a wide array of animals. Unfortunately, most people bitten by an Assassin Bug don’t realize they’ve even sustained a bite during their sleep.
As they dine on human blood, the cone-nosed insects defecate. The contaminated feces of an infected insect can transmit Chagas Disease into the site of the bite. Often, people infected with Chagas Disease remain completely asymptomatic.
Blood transfusions of blood accidentally infected with Chagas Disease will also transmit the illness. Unfortunately, the protozoa that cause Chagas Disease can live in the bloodstreams of a large number of animal populations, as well as in human blood.
Chagas Disease itself proves fatal in some victims, especially in young children. Many people infected with this ailment never show any symptoms, however.
A small number of patients develop acute symptoms shortly after sustaining a bite. Symptoms frequently include a variable fever, swelling lymph nodes, a swollen spleen and/or liver, and general malaise. People may become aware of an enlarged abdomen, lethargy, diarrhea, weakness and sometimes, an increased heart rate and coordination issues. In some cases, Chagas Disease can cause meningitis or encephalitis, both involving swelling of the tissue around the brain. If someone suspects Chagas Disease, a blood test conducted soon after infection may permit effective treatment.
Unfortunately, many patients display no symptoms immediately after infection, but some people and pets will sustain chronic illnesses caused by Chagas Disease later in life. The long term consequences of this ailment also can include heart muscle inflammation, including enlargement of the heart, arrhythmias and other abnormalities. Some people with Chagas Disease will never know they’ve sustained an infection because they remain completely asymptomatic.
Health authorities estimate that today, some 300,000 people in the United States have sustained infection with Chagas Disease. The illness proves especially widespread in some locations in the U.S. Southwest, Mexico and South America, especially in rural places. An estimated 400 dogs have died in Texas alone from Chagas Disease.
Combating this health ailment proves very challenging, since the cone-nosed insects which spread the disease tend to remain secluded and out of sight during the daytime. Also, the protozoa that cause this illness occur widely today in the Americas. Although all ages of people can sustain infection with Chagas Disease, this problem afflicts young children most severely.
Some health authorities recommend keeping pets indoors at night, and keeping outdoor dog houses elevated off the ground to reduce the chance of exposure to Chagas Disease, although these methods won’t work 100% of the time. Additionally, homeowners may want to remove heaps of brush, wood or rock from locations near the home. Keeping the premises clean and regularly sealing cracks in the walls and window ledges may also help reduce the chances of Chagas Disease transmission. People who suspect the possibility of an acute infection with Chagas Disease should seek prompt medical assistance.