Watch Out For Kissing Bugs: They Spread Chagas Disease, A Dangerous Parasitic Infection. Here Are Warning Symptoms To Pay Attention To

Date April 19, 2018

What is Chagas disease?

Have you heard about Chagas disease? It is an infectious disease caused by parasites called Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi), and it's spread by triatomine bugs, which are commonly called "kissing bugs". It seems that the disease isn't getting enough attention around the world, but it's a great health concern in South America and Central America, and cases of the disease have been reported in the southern United States. But why should we worry about this disease? Some health experts even liken Chagas disease to HIV/AIDS because of its insidiousness and the potential to infect large numbers of people.

According to the CDC, 8 million people in South America, Central America, and Mexico are affected by the disease. It's estimated that 12,000 people die from complications of the disease every year.

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How do people get Chagas disease?

The most common way people become infected is getting bitten by a triatomine bug. Not all these bugs are the carriers of T.cruzi, but if a carrier bug bites you and defecates afterwards, T. cruzi found in the bug's feces can get into your body through the bite itself or through your mouth, nose, or eyes. You are more likely to get bitten when you sleep.

Other ways to become infected include the following:

  • eating undercooked or uncooked food contaminated with the parasite;
  • receiving a blood transfusion or an organ transplant from an infected person;
  • being born to a woman who's infected.

It might be possible to get infected after getting bitten by a bed bug, but more research is needed to find out whether bed bugs can pass the parasite to humans.

Those who live in rural and suburban areas in South America and Central America are at a higher risk of getting infected.

Symptoms of Chagas disease

Chagas disease has acute and chronic phases. The acute phase may last weeks to months, and it's marked by the following symptoms:

  • fever;
  • fatigue;
  • swelling or sore at the infection site (commonly seen around the eye or mouth);
  • skin rash;
  • digestive symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite;
  • Romaña’s sign, a swelling of the eyelid.

Sometimes, people don't get symptoms during the acute phase.

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The chronic phase may never come. But if it does, it can occur years after you got infected, and its symptoms may include the following:

See your doctor if you have traveled to areas where Chagas disease is common and you suspect you may have been infected.

How to lower your risk of getting Chagas disease

If you live in the United States, your chances of becoming infected are low. Anyway, here's how you can lower your risk of getting Chagas disease:

  • learn what triatomine bugs, the carriers of the parasite, look like;
  • if you are in the area where triatomine bugs are endemic, take steps to avoid them;
  • don't sleep in mud, adobe, straw, and palm thatch houses;
  • use a bednet sprayed with insecticide if you have to sleep in such a house;
  • use an insect repellent when outdoors.

Source: CDC, Doctors Without Borders, WebMD, Mother Nature Network

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This article is solely for informational purposes. Do not self-diagnose or self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information provided in the article.