If the bed bug threat was not enough to sleep in a hooded and face-masked body suit, Chagas disease, spread by the "Kissing Beetle," was found in 28 states A new report from the American Heart Association, with a potential infection risk of 300,000 Americans. And, much like bedbugs, triatomine bites bugs at night. Unlike bedbugs, which are more of a physical disorder and a mental nightmare, kissing beetles transmit disease. According to a research team from Texas A & M University, 50 percent of triatomin beetles are infected with Chagas disease, a potentially life-threatening disease that is easily transmitted to humans.
These insects, which can grow to the size of a penny, are referred to as kissing beetles because they tend to bite unsuspecting sleepers on the face, which Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes on their website. "After they have bitten and picked up blood, they are exposed to the person, who may become infected if T. cruzi parasites enter the body through the mucus membranes or skin ruptures," the CDC said.
"The unsuspecting, sleeping person may inadvertently scratch or rub the feces into the bite, the eyes or the mouth." If you wake up with a bite and can definitely rule out bedbugs, you should look for bugs that are winged and often have red, orange or yellow stripes. As soon as you know that you are having a blood meal for these pests, you should monitor yourself for signs and symptoms of Chagas' disease that can lead to serious heart and bowel complications if left untreated.
The good news is that kissing beetles rarely come in. However, if you camp in the south or west of the US or in South, Central or Latin America, you may be bitten. The CDC reported that Chagas' disease has an acute and chronic phase. The acute phase can last from a few weeks to a few months, and the symptoms are usually mild. The disease can also be difficult to diagnose at this stage, as symptoms such as fever, fatigue, body aches, headaches and skin rash are common in other diseases.
If you have these symptoms and you were in an area where Kissing Beetles are common, it's worth a trip to the doctor for a full exam. "The signs of a physical exam may be a slight enlargement of the liver or spleen, swollen glands, and local swelling (a chagoma) that causes the parasite to enter the body," the CDC said. "The most recognized marker of acute Chagas' disease is referred to as the Romaña sign, which includes swelling of the eyelids on the side of the face near the bite wound, or the settling of the beetle feces or inadvertent rubbing into the eye."
Even if your symptoms disappear, it does not mean that you have recovered. If left untreated, the disease can enter a chronic phase in which you may not notice any symptoms for decades. People with chronic Chagas disease are at risk of developing fatal heart complications that include an enlarged heart, heart failure and heart attack.
The chronic phase of the disease may also manifest as an enlarged esophagus (megaesophagus) or as a large intestine (megacolon). which makes it difficult to eat and use the bathroom. The disease can also affect animals. Therefore, it is important to keep your cat or dog in the cave at night when kissing beetles is most active. Chagas disease is treatable, especially if caught early.
If you have already planned a trip to an area where the kisshead is common, there are a few ways to minimize your risk. "Travelers sleeping in well-developed facilities indoors (eg in air-conditioned or screened hotel rooms) have a low risk of being exposed to infected triathlon beetles that invade poor quality homes and are most active at night," CDC notes. "Preventive measures include spraying affected homes with residual insecticides, using mosquito nets treated with long-lasting insecticides, wearing protective clothing, and applying insect repellent to the exposed skin."
In general, this is a classic case of #TheMoreYouKnow. While the kissing bug exists in the United States, it is more common in South, Central and Latin America. But because it is known as the silent killer for its lack of symptoms and long rest period, kissing the bug and Chagas' disease can help you identify a possible infection, and it could even save your life. Because knowledge is power.