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triatomineChagas is a disease caused by parasites inside triatomines (“kissing bugs”) and found mainly in Latin America. Early stage symptoms include fever, fatigue, body aches, headaches and as the disease progresses can cause cardiac arrest and megacolon.

Chagas is mainly found in poor, rural parts of Latin America but isolated cases have been found in Louisiana, Texas and Virginia. The CDC estimates that 8 million people who live in Latin America live with the disease and about 300,000 people in the U.S. are affected. With the increase of Hispanics coming into the U.S. from Latin America, clinics are being put on alert to diagnose and treat this disease. Those who have immigrated to the U.S. are at greatest risk or if you travel to regions where Chagas is endemic. Spain is also grappling with Chagas because 80,000 migrants from Latin America are living there who are also affected with the illness.

The disease is spread from bites or fecal matter deposited on the skin by triatomines. It is called the kissing bug because the bites tend to occur around the mouth. The disease can also spread from congenital transmission, cross the placental barrier  (from mother to fetus during pregnancy), blood transfusion, organ transplantation, consumption of uncooked food contaminated with feces from infected bugs or accidental laboratory exposure (Fox News Latino, 2014).

With all the talk about Ebola, why have we not heard more about this disease? Currently Chagas is not classified by health officials as pandemic and doctors are failing to diagnose it and feel that people in the U.S. could not contract the disease. There is research that suggests that 40,000 pregnant women in the U.S. may be infected with disease at any time, resulting in a possible 2,000 cases being passed to the fetus during pregnancy.

Treatment includes administering antiparasitic drugs to kill the parasite, however, it will only be effective if the disease is caught in time. When a person reaches the acute stage, a person is monitored with a device like a pacemaker, medications for irregular heartbeats and intestinal problems.

In an article published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, bedbugs are capable of contracting and depositing the parasite.  Study is now underway to see whether bedbugs will become an important player in the study of Chagas and whether they can cause more harm to humans.

To read more on this topic, click on the following links:

Fox News Latino. (2014). “200,000 people in U.S. have Chagas disease as country unsure how to deal with growing threat”. Retrieved October 22, 2014, from: http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/health/2014/10/21/300000-people-in-us-have-chagas-disease-as-country-unsure-who-to-deal-with/

RTT News. (2014). Bedbugs could spread deadly heart damaging Chagas disease”. Retrieved November 19, 2014, from: http://www.rttnews.com/Story.aspx?Id=2419500