Until recently, doctors believed kissing bug disease is harmless. However, new evidence suggests the condition is far deadlier than initially thought, causing severe, and often fatal, heart complications. The critters, per se, are not dangerous, their feces, on the other hand, harbor a deadly and highly infectious parasite, the Trypanasoma cruzi.
How Kissing Bug Disease is Spread
The Triatoma Rubida, or the kissing bug, likes to crawl on the cover of darkness on people’s faces and bite their lips, or the area surrounding the mouth. Then, they proceed to defecate in the wound, therefore infesting their victim with the Trypanasoma cruzi parasite. Once the protozoan reaches the bloodstream, it triggers Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, an infectious condition that affects the hearts, esophagus, and colon of victims.
To feed the fire, the disease is usually asymptomatic, less than half of infected individuals developing any kind of symptom. From these, only 60 percent only experience initial symptoms like fever, swollen lymph nodes, localized inflammation, or headaches. Due to their general nature, the symptoms are usually brushed off, patients rarely seeking medical help. About 20 to 30 percent of victims end up suffering from an enlarged ventricle, and in 10 percent of cases, patients had to deal with an enlarged esophagus or colon.
Ligia Capuani and her team discovered that most kissing bug disease cases were found when infected individuals wanted to donate blood and received extensive tests. Thus, the researchers looked at all persons who donated blood in Brazil from 1996 to 2000, analyzing the health of both seropositive and seronegative patients throughout the years.
They found that those infected with the parasite had 17 times more chances to die due to heart complications than those who weren’t. Moreover, 30 percent of seropositive patients develop deadly heart complications, while 10 percent struggle with neurological or digestive problems.
The CDC found evidence of over 300,000 of kissing bugs in the US, while WHO estimates there are about 6 million people infected globally.
Image Source: Flickr