This bug creeps in the night and bites you on your face while you’re fast asleep, and you never knew it happened until you become dangerously ill from the disease it spreads, which is being dubbed the “new AIDS of the Americas” by researchers because its initial symptoms are hard to detect. Many call it the “kissing bug” due to its exclusive attack place being one’s face, but Doctors are calling it a silent killer — and aren’t completely prepared for it yet.
The reduviid bug has recently made its way north onto U.S. soil. Endemic to Latin America, it has already infected 17 residents in Houston, Texas, the Washington Post reported.
The tiny insect feeds on human blood much like a mosquito, but it is specific to biting the face of its victims. Reduviid bugs carry a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes Chagas disease in its human hosts.
At the onset of the disease, the infected will experience fever, fatigue, body aches, rash, diarrhea, and vomiting, according to the CDC. This initial acute stage turns into a prolonged asymptomatic state for some bitten by the bug, at which time a few parasites are found in the blood, the CDC noted.
However, the disease can cause heart failure and intestinal complications over time.
“People don’t normally feel sick, so they don’t seek medical care, but it ultimately ends up causing heart disease in about 30 percent of those who are infected,” Nolan Garcia, an epidemiologist at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston whose research focused on Chagas disease in the U.S. said. “We think of Chagas disease as a silent killer,” Garcia added.
The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) released a report last week outlining the ramification of this bug infestation and claimed U.S. health care workers lack awareness which prevents successful diagnosis and treatment of Chagas disease. The report noted that the federally licensed drugs to combat the disease also limits patients’ access to treatment.
Although there have been several confirmed cases in America, CDC officials believe most people infected with Chagas disease contracted the parasite in Mexico or South America before coming to the U.S. About 7 million to 8 million people are thought to be infected with the parasite worldwide, mostly in Latin America, the World Health Organization has said.
Considering the symptoms of the disease can be easily attributed to so many other common health issues, Susan Montgomery of the CDC’s parasitic diseases branch estimates there may be more individuals infected with Chagas disease than what has actually been confirmed.
“We don’t know how often that is happening because there may be cases that are undiagnosed since many doctors would not think to test their patients for this disease.” Montgomery assured Americans the risk of infection is “very low,” Montgomery told HealthDay.
Chagas disease is like the sister disease to Ebola, but much more stealthy.