An elusive bug that creeps into your bed at night is actually a deadly killer. The reduviid bug is responsible for spreading Chagas disease, which is slowly spreading to the U.S. from Latin America.
The reduviid bug is also known as the “kissing bug” due to the way that it bites humans. The bug always bites on the face while the victim is in deep sleep. After the kissing bug bites, it poops. The germs that cause Chagas disease are in the bug’s feces. People will usually scratch the bite, and when this happens, a small amount of the bug’s feces, along with the germs, enter the bloodstream. The bite is being called a “silent killer” by doctors because symptoms are not noticeable at first. In fact, the initial symptoms presented by Chagas disease are mild and don’t occur for weeks or even months after the bite. However, according to the CDC, serious injury or even death can occur months after receiving the bit. The bite can cause serious heart and stomach illnesses, including heart failure or intestinal complications that lead to death.
The reduviid bug is historically only a problem in South America. However, it has recently made its way north onto U.S. soil. In fact, it has already infected 17 residents in Houston, Texas, the Washington Post reported. Medical professionals are worried that more people may be infected and not showing symptoms just yet. Susan Montgomery of the CDC’s parasitic diseases branch says there may certainly be more individuals infected with Chagas disease than what has actually been confirmed.
“We don’t know how often that is happening because there may be cases that are undiagnosed, since many doctors would not think to test their patients for this disease.”
Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston have done research to suggest that Montgomery is correct. Many more humans have been exposed to Chagas in Texas than the CDC has documented. During a presentation at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene meeting in New Orleans, epidemiologist Melissa Nolan Garcia said her team had been following 17 Houston-area residents who had been infected. At least six of them appeared to have been infected locally as they had insignificant travel outside the United States. Most of the patients spent a lot of time outdoors or lived in rural areas where the bugs are thought to live. The Baylor group also collected 40 kissing bugs near homes in 11 central-southern Texas counties, and found that half had fed on human blood.
The researchers also went so far as to analyze the blood of donors in Texas between 2008 and 2012 and found that one in every 6,500 donors tested positive for exposure to the parasite. This is a figure that is 50 times higher than the Centers for Disease Control estimate. Due to this high numbers, many doctors are calling Chagas disease the “new AIDS of the Americas.”
With the dangerous reduviid bug apparently here to stay, Montgomery notes that doctors in the United States need to be better trained on how to diagnose and treat the deadly disease.