Texans might be at risk of contracting Chagas disease because of a deadly parasite which is frequently carried by a number of ordinary insects, according to researchers at University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).
The Trypanosoma cruzi parasite which causes Chagas disease is carried by Triatominae bugs, blood-sucking insects which people commonly refer to as “kissing bugs” or “assassin bugs”. The kissing bugs transmit the parasites to humans by dropping their feces through the open wound caused by their bite. The parasite can also spread through anything that has been contaminated by the insect’s feces such as drinks or food.
After entering the victim’s body, the parasite infiltrates into the bloodstream, severely affecting the gastrointestinal system as well as the heart. Researchers say that the numerous cases of heart disease encountered in Texas can be linked to the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite.
UTEP biologists decided to investigate this problem by testing a number of 39 kissing bugs. The results were shocking even for them: 61% of the kissing bugs, namely 24 out of the 39, were infected with the parasite. Act Tropica journal published the findings.
“It surprised me that so many of them were carrying the parasite,” declared Dr. Rosa A. Maldonado, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Up to 7 million people are infected with Chagas disease worldwide, states the World Health Organization.
Chagas disease can be treated if detected at an early stage; however 50% of the people infected with Trypanosoma cruzi show no symptoms. The people who do in fact have these symptoms often experience swelling of the lids, fever, muscle pain, headache, pallor, difficulty in breathing or chest pain. Life-threatening symptoms such as abnormalities concerning heart rhythm are also common.
In the worst cases the disease can lead to enlarged colon and heart and in some cases even hear failure.
Maldonado says that when diagnosing patients, doctors do not normally considers the possibility of Chagas disease and thus she encourages them not to overlook this possibility especially during times like these.
Image Source: bugs.ufl.edu