So-called “kissing bugs” are slowly becoming an epidemic.

The American Heart Association (AHA) has stated that kissing bugs, scientifically known as triatomine bugs, are becoming more common. As a result, doctors in the U.S. and Europe need to do a better job of recognizing the parasites and the diseases which they carry.

The parasitic, bloodsucking bugs spread an illness called Chagas disease. If it is left untreated, the disease can cause serious cardiac or intestinal complications in about 30 percent of patients. According to the CDC, the complications can lead to heart failure and sudden death.

Because the symptoms of Chagas are typically acute or undetectable, the disease has been labeled as a “silent killer.” Many groups are now informing doctors who work outside of the most affected regions how to recognize, treat, and control the disease.

The disease is most common in Central and South America. However, Chagas is on the rise in Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, and the United States.

Approximately 300,000 people in the U.S. are infected with Chagas, while 6 million people are infected globally.

Why is Chagas a Growing Threat?

The United States is home to at least 11 species of triatomine bugs, some of which transmit Chagas. The Southern United States is apparently the most affected region of the country.

Aside from the parasites sucking on their victims’ faces (hence the name “kissing bugs,”) Chagas can also be transmitted through blood transfusions, organ donation, and in utero.

Many people are now contracting the illness because Chagas has long been a neglected parasitic infection. Consequently, blood supply contamination is broadening the concern.

“We were astonished to not only find such a high rate of individuals testing positive for Chagas in their blood, but also high rates of heart disease that appear to be Chagas-related,” said Baylor epidemiologist Melissa Nolan Garcia, one of the researchers who presented findings on Chagas from a series of studies. “We’ve been working with physicians around the state to increase awareness and diagnosis of this important emerging infectious disease.

 

How Do Infections Occur?

 

Certain types of kissing bugs will crawl onto humans, dogs, or other mammals to feed. At night, the parasites will often climb onto people’s faces to bite them. They usually strike near their victims’ eyes or mouths.

Just like every other living creature, the bugs defecate. While feeding, the bugs leave feces which often contain the parasite. People are infected if the feces are rubbed into either their bite wounds or into mucous membranes in their eyes or mouths.

Some infected people experience diarrhea or vomiting. However, most people do not show symptomatic signs of the disease. In the early stages of infection, an individual may assume that they have a common cold. Often, the infected experience fevers, fatigue, body aches, headaches, or rashes.

Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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