They may be called ‘kissing bugs,’ but they have no love for you.
Health officials are warning that these blood-sucking insects can sneak up on you when you’re sleeping — and a bite from one can spread a deadly disease called Chagas.
“It was super itchy for like two or three weeks,” Lynn Kaufer Hodson said, according to Fox News. At first she thought she’d been bitten by a mosquito or some other bug, but later learned she had contracted the disease when going to give blood, according to the network.
The disease is caused by tiny bugs called triatomines, which crawl around your face while you sleep and bite around your eyes and lips, giving them the colloquial name “kissing bugs,” according to ABC News.
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The bugs suck blood just like ticks or mosquitoes, and then poop in the open wound, which spreads the disease through a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Sometimes the person may accidentally brush the feces into the wound themselves without realizing it.
Chagas often has no symptoms at first, according to the CDC, but it can lurk in the body for years and eventually cause serious problems such as an enlarged heart, enlarged colon, heart attacks and more.
The bugs are common in South and Central America, where as many as 8 million people may be infected with Chagas, the CDC reported, but the insects have been steadily spreading north. There are 11 different species of them in the US and they can be found in 28 states, according to Texas A&M.
The American Heart Associated released a statement on August 20 noting that as “at least” 300,000 people living in the United States were affected by Chagas and hoped they could increase awareness of the disease.
The disease isn’t spread by human-to-human contact, but it can be passed from a pregnant woman to her infant and is especially dangerous for people with weakened immune systems, ABC News reported.
“Chagas disease causes early mortality and substantial disability, which often occurs in the most productive population, young adults, (and) results in a significant economic loss,” a medical representative from the American Heart Association said, according to the network.
Treatment is possible with anti-parasitic drugs, but the medication is prioritized for high-risk patients, so people like Hodson are sometimes forced to wait, according to Fox News.
“They say if you get it treated right away research shows it’s effective,” Hodson told the network. “What’s right away? I had to wait five months, so how I looked at it was — I have it. It’s either going to affect me or it’s not.”
The nocturnal bugs can be treated with common pesticides if an infestation occurs, though a single insect may not be worth any alarm, according to Texas A&M. The university recommends seeing a medical professional if you suspect you’ve been bitten by one of the insects.