An international team of scientists studied the Rhodnius prolixus, the vector linked to the increase of Chagas disease cases. The study aims to explore the characteristics of the bug that could help in the development of innovative insect control and to prevent its life-threatening health effects on humans.

The R. prolixus, commonly known as triatomine bugs or "kissing bugs," carry a potentially life-threatening parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi, which has infected around 7 million people worldwide. Apparently, it is not the bug's bite that causes the infection, rather, they are vectors or just carriers of the disease.

A vector is an insect that transmits infection, virus or pathogen from one host to another. If a bug bites an infected person or animal, it becomes a carrier of the parasite. The infection is then passed through its feces and when it bites another person, it leaves trails of infected feces on the person's skin.

"These are nocturnal, blood-sucking insects that feed on animals and people's faces at night, while we're sleeping," Carl Lowenberger, co-author and a professor at the Simon Fraser Univeristy, said.

The new findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, include new information about the physiology and evolution of kissing bugs. The researchers discovered that there are unforeseen modifications on important immune pathways of the insect.

"It seems that R. prolixus has a significantly modified immune system, that may have evolved to prevent the elimination of obligate microbial symbionts on which the insect depends on for its survival," Lowenberger explained.

The parasite enters the body through the eyes and mouth or skin breaks and can stay with the person affected not noticing. Although, during the acute phase of the disease, signs and symptoms will start to manifest including skin lesion or swelling of the eyelids, fever, headache, enlarged lymph nodes, muscle pain, chest or abdominal pain, paleness and difficulty of breathing.

Once the chronic phase sets in, the disease may cause severe reactions such as cardiac disorders, digestive problems, and neurological alterations. When left undetected for years, the infection can lead to sudden death or heart failure.

Thus, understanding the genome may open doors for researchers to determine the specific genes found in kissing bugs and their processes to 'serve as targets' for transmission drugs or insect control methods.

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