July 31, 2014

Another bug to fear?

Ebola is not the only disease getting media coverage. It seems that another disease called chagas is in the headlines along with the insects that transmit it. Perhaps one of the names of this nasty insect, kissing bugs, implies a less-than-dangerous illness. But chagas can remain in a human for months and even transmitted to newborns.

Doctors are slowly becoming aware of the dangers of this disease that is predominantly afflicting Bolivians, many of whom live in Northern Virginia. But a map on the Centers for Disease Control website shows the entire southern US reporting this insect.

According to the World Health Organization: Triatomine bugs are large bloodsucking insects that occur mainly in Latin America and the southern USA, frequently in homes made of mud and with thatched roofs. A number of species have adapted to living in and around houses and are important in the transmission to humans of Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease (also known as American trypanosomiasis). Chagas disease, which occurs in most South and Central American countries, is incurable and in its chronic phase may cause damage to the heart and intestines. Some patients eventually die from heart disease.

WHO also estimates that 8 million people have Chagas disease worldwide, most of them in Latin America. The triatomines, or the so-called kissing bugs, bite people at night, passing the parasite through their feces. The bite itself is painless, and many people never show any signs of the disease. A third of those with Chagas, however, develop heart disease or megacolon, and untreated, they die from what appears to be heart attacks. An estimated 11,000 people lose their lives every year to the disease.