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How Many People Have Contracted Chagas Disease From Kissing Bug Bites In Louisiana, And What Are The Chances That A Resident Will Contract The Disease

The group of insects commonly known as “conenose bugs” belong to the Reduviidae family, which also makes them “assassin bugs.” Assassin bugs are aptly named for being ambush predators of a wide range of insect species. There are numerous assassin bug species of many genera worldwide, one of which is the Triatoma genus, which is made up of species that are commonly referred to as “kissing bugs.” Kissing bugs do not rely on insect prey for food; instead they are parasitic bloodsuckers that prey on a large number of animals, including humans.

Kissing bugs are only active at night, which is when they fly into homes through windows or cracks, crevices and other entry points on the exterior walls of homes. Once indoors, kissing bugs pinpoint their human prey by detecting and following the odor of CO2 from the breath of sleeping humans. Generally, kissing bugs enter homes in large groups where they each feed on the blood of sleeping humans. Their bites don’t usually cause people to wake up because kissing bug saliva contains anesthetic compounds that numb the skin. However, upon waking, bite victims notice many swollen and irritated red bite marks, as well as blood spots on their clothes and bedding. Due to rolling over during the night, some kissing bugs are killed and their bodies are often found on or near beds. Unfortunately, kissing bugs are more than just annoying biters, they also spread a parasitic disease known as “chagas disease,” which experts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say is becoming a greater threat than ever to public health in the US.

Kissing bugs get their common name from their habit of biting people’s faces, normally around the lips. After they have collected their blood meal, kissing bugs defecate near the bite wound. Shortly after feeding, the affected skin begins to itch, and while sleeping, people smear the feces into their bite wound. A large proportion of kissing bugs within any given population carry a parasite known as T. cruzi, which is contained with their feces. Naturally, if feces makes contact with a bite wound, the parasite will enter the bloodstream, resulting in chagas infection.

While 13 disease-spreading kissing bugs can be found in the lower half of the US, only one kissing bug species can be found in Louisiana, Triatoma sanguisuga. Although other southern states are home to as many as seven kissing bug species, Louisiana sees a disproportionate number of chagas disease cases. According to Julius L. Tonzel, a vector-borne diseases epidemiologist with the Louisiana Department of Health, since 2006 eight people have contracted chagas disease within their homes in Louisiana, and residents have a one in 400 chance of becoming exposed. High kissing bug activity in several New Orleans parishes recently has been a source of concern among public health officials in the state.

Have you ever woken in the morning to find yourself covered in bug bites?

 

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