Doctors are warning the public about Chagas Disease, a parasitic infection transmitted by an insect known as the kissing bug.
The American Heart Association recently published a statement to help medical practitioners diagnose and treat the infection.
Beware Of The Kissing Bug
Chagas disease is most commonly found in Central and South America but in the recent decades, it has started to spread across the world, including the United States. It is caused by a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi) that lives in the gut of a triatomine insect also known as the kissing bug because it often bites near the mouth of a human.
Paula Stigler-Granados, an assistant professor at the Texas University's School of Health Administration, explains the rather gross process of the transmission of the parasite from the kissing bug to humans.
"If the kissing bug bites you and it has a blood meal and then it defecates, and then you scratch that area and rub it into the wound or rub your eyes, you could become infected," she told Health.
The infection can also be transferred via contaminated food and drink, blood transfusion, organ transplants, or pregnant mothers to their babies. Chagas disease cannot be transmitted through touching or kissing another person.
In the United States, about 300,000 people have already been diagnosed with Chagas. Other countries where cases have been identified include Spain, Italy, France, Switzerland, Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
Chaga Diseases Symptoms And Treatment
Unfortunately, about 60 to 70 percent of people infected with the T. cruzi parasite will never develop symptoms. The remaining 30 percent might develop serious complications such as heart failure, cardiac arrest, stroke, and life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias.
The key to curing Chagas disease is early detection. People who suspect that they have been bitten by the kissing bug can get a blood test to see if they have been infected. The disease can be cured with medications that have 60 to 90 percent success rate.
"Early detection of Chagas disease is critical, allowing prompt initiation of therapy when the evidence for cure is strong," said statement study co-author Caryn Bern of the University of California in San Francisco.
The AHA says that risk of infection is extremely low for travelers where the disease has been diagnosed. However, they still warn people to avoid sleeping in places with unplastered adobe walls from countries where Chagas disease is prevalent.
The statement from the AHA that summarizes and provides updated information on the diagnosis, screening, and treatment of T. cruzi infection can be found in the journal Circulation.