Health

New Study Suggests 'Kissing Bugs' May Pose a Serious Health Threat Close to Home

| by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades

Though many Americans are worried about Ebola, a new study suggests a different health threat may have already infiltrated the United States. A new study suggests Chagas Disease, a parasitic infection that can lead to potentially deadly cardiac and intestinal complications, is far more prevalent than previously believed. 

The disease, which is normally considered a threat to public health in Mexico, Central America and South America, is spread by ‘kissing bugs.’ Normally, blood-sucking "kissing" bugs that bite people's faces at night and transmit Chagas Disease, which is estimated to affect 7 to 8 million people worldwide. It can also be spread from blood transfusions, organ transplants and transfer from mother to child.  

 A team of researchers from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston is challenging how many cases of Chagas Disease are in the United States and how it’s transmitted. It was believed most of the people in the U.S. with the disease contracted abroad. 

At the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene meeting in New Orleans, epidemiologist Melissa Nolan Garcia said her team followed 17 Houston-area residents who had Chagas Disease. At least six of them, who were often outdoors or lived in rural areas, appeared to have been infected close to home. The research team collected 40 kissing bugs near homes in 11 Texas counties and found that half had fed on human blood as well as that of a dozen kinds of animals. After the Baylor team tested blood donors for the disease, they found the rate of infection was five times higher than the CDC’s reports.

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"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," Nolan Garcia said.

Luckily, the disease can be cured if it’s caught early. However, Chagas is called a ‘silent killer’ because the infection is often asymptomatic.

Sources: Washington Post

Image via CDC