A disease caused by "kissing bugs" is more dangerous than it sounds and has had more than 300,000 pathogenic effects in the United States, according to a new report from the American Heart Association (AHA).
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Blood-sucking triatomine insects spread a disease called Chagas disease. If left untreated, it can cause serious heart or intestinal complications in up to 30 percent of people infected with the virus, according to the AHA. This can lead to heart failure or sudden death, warning officials.
Although the bugs mostly occur in Central and South America, Chagas disease is more prevalent in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan, according to the AHA.
In the US there are at least 11 types of triatomine bugs, some of which send Chagas, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The infection is more common in southern states, including Texas, Florida and Georgia.
An estimated 6 million people are infected with Chagas disease worldwide.
Many people show no signs of disease, which is why medical researchers describe Chagas as a "silent murderer".
During the night, certain types of triatomine insects crawl on humans, dogs and other mammals to eat. They often leave bites in the face, especially in the eyes and mouth, giving it the name "kissing bug" according to researchers at Texas A & M University.
When the insects eat, they usually do defecate, so that feces can contain the parasite. It can cause an infection if the stool comes under the skin.
Although most people show no signs of infection, some people develop swollen eyelids if that is where the infection first occurred.
Others may experience symptoms of fatigue, body aches or rashes according to Texas A & M researchers.
In children, it is known that the parasite causes the swelling of the brain, which can cause sudden death.
The condition is usually diagnosed with a blood test and treated with anti-parasitic medication.
If patients remain untreated, the disease can become more severe and about 30 percent of patients will get an enlarged heart, the AHA will warn. This can lead to stroke, irregular heartbeat or heart failure, in addition to other complications.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, triatomine insects rarely enter the inner area. There are currently no synthetic chemicals on the US market approved for use against the insects, officials said.
A recognized pest control operator can help to make a plan to kill the insects using mosquito nets and curtains.
Other precautions include:
- Sealing cracks and holes around windows, walls, roofs and doors.
- Remove wooden, brush and rock heaps in the vicinity of the house.
- Use screens on doors and windows and repair any holes or cracks.
- If possible, ensure that the garden lighting is not close to the house (lights can attract insects).
- Sealing holes and slits that lead to the attic, crawl under the house and out.
- Pets must sleep indoors, especially at night.
- Keep the house clean and keep out all resting places for pets, in addition to periodically checking both areas for the presence of insects.
The AHA statement said that better diagnostic tests should be made to properly assess the risk of kissing bugs, along with the urgent need to draw up a plan to protect pregnant women.
If the problems are not addressed quickly, the AHA warns that serious heart problems related to the condition can continue to rise.