What is a Kissing Bug?
A kissing bug is an insect that originated in Latin America and then spread to the southern half of the US, where it is now flourishing in twenty-eight states. Its scientific name is the triatomine bug, and there are eleven different species. Its moniker makes it sound like a loving insect, but the opposite is true – it’s a blood-sucking parasite that bites the lip and eye areas of the mammals on which it feeds. Humans and pets are not exempt.
And, You Thought Bed Bugs Were a Problem!
Inside your home, the bugs like to spend the day lurking in cracks or mattresses and under beds. They come out at night just like vampires. Kissing bugs are nocturnal, so, like more harmless insects, they are attracted to light at night. So turn off outdoor night lights. Also clear away rocks and brush from the exterior of your home and seal all gaps and cracks.
Triatominae can be infected with a parasite called trypanosoma cruzi. When an infected bug bites someone, the bug can swell to the size of a grape. This gives it indigestion and causes it to defecate in the wound. The deposited parasite is then free to wend its way into the host’s bloodstream. The infected person can become ill with chagas, which is named after the Brazilian physician who discovered it back in 1909. Symptoms of chagas include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, and fatigue. More seriously, the infection can lead to intestinal damage, heart failure, and death.
Treatment of Chagas
Among vector-borne illnesses, chagas is slower to respond to treatment than malaria or dengue fever, so it has been easier to ignore. Scientists working on the disease receive little recognition and insufficient funding. Benznidazole is the primary drug used in treatment. It was developed over forty years ago, and another, nifurtimox, is even older. Both are effective in killing the parasite, although a recent clinical trial found that benznidazole could not stop or reverse heart deterioration already in progress. If you think you may have chagas – one early sign is swelling around the eye or mouth – don’t hesitate to seek immediate medical attention.