No one likes to find bugs in their home, but a particular type of creepy-crawler poses an extra danger, new research finds.
“Kissing bugs” spread Chagas disease, one of five parasitic infections the Centers for Disease Control is currently targeting for public health action. Over 300,000 people in the U.S. currently live with it, and most don’t even know.
Chagas can present itself with mild or even no symptoms, but the effects can be life-threatening. The infection can increase risk of death by two or three times, a new study published in Plos shows. Brazilian researchers linked Chagas with an increased risk of heart disease — 17 times more to be exact.
The infection poses the greatest risk in Latin and South America, and most people with Chagas in the U.S. acquired it abroad. However, kissing bugs live 25 states from coast to coast, mostly in the South.
Triatomine bugs — also called kissing, assassin or vampire bugs — hide indoors or sometimes in the cracks and holes of substandard housing. They also make their homes beneath porches, in dog houses and under rocks and wood.
While they look fairly tame, the blood-sucking pests spread Chagas by biting humans, usually while they’re sleeping. After feeding, parasites in bugs’ feces can enter the body through breaks in the skin. Sleeping people can also accidently scratch or rub the feces into the eyes or mouth.
The first few weeks after infection mark the acute phase, when people may show mild symptoms like fever, aches or fatigue. The most noticeable marker is called Romaña’s sign — when the eyelids near the point of infection start to swell. The chronic phase of the disease is when cardiac or intestinal complications can develop.
While antiparasitic drugs can treat Chagas if caught early, the best way to prevent it controlling the bugs that spread it, according to CNN. To prevent infestation, seal cracks and gaps, remove wood or rock piles near your home and have pets sleep indoors. Roach hotels and other “bait” won’t work against triatomine bugs, the CDC notes.
While it’s important to note the likelihood of getting Chagas in the U.S. is relatively low, the disease shouldn’t go ignored. If you suspect you might have Chagas, talk to your doctor right away.