SAN ANTONIO – When you get bit by a kissing bug, you may not even know it because the bite isn’t very painful.
But experts with Texas A&M AgriLife Research say that bite can affect you down the road because kissing bugs are known to spread Chagas disease.
Chagas is caused by a parasite in blood-feeding insects, like kissing bugs. If a dog or human is infected, the parasite can be dormant for many years. When it wakes up it can feed on your heart.
According to Texas A&M AgriLife Research, chronic, or long-term effects of Chagas disease can result in significant heart or digestive system problems. The most commonly reported signs of advanced Chagas disease are cardiac problems, such as heart failure, an enlarged heart, altered heart rate/rhythm, and cardiac arrest (sudden death).
It’s why experts like Gabe Hamer, with Texas A&M AgriLife Science, is concerned that they have seen a spike in kissing bugs across the state.
“We don’t really understand this the factors that are increasing the numbers so it could be weather-related and there are other potential factors in the numbers we are seeing this year but people don’t really know what that is yet,” Hamer said.
Kissing bugs, when fully grown, are about an inch long and they can live for about a year. Hamer says people living in San Antonio can see them around their home because the bugs are flying in from the Hill Country and are attracted to lights. To prevent kissing bugs from hanging around your home, clear out any brush or areas where rodents or critters hang around, which are what the bugs feed on.
This is how Chagas is spread according to Texas A&M AgriLife Research:
“Chagas disease is spread mainly by the feces of an infected kissing bug. The feces contain the parasite that causes Chagas. When the blood-feeding kissing bug bites a person or animal, it may defecate and leave its feces near the bite site or near an eye, mouth, or nose. Because the parasite is in the bug feces, when the person or animal scratches the area, the parasite enters the body though the bloodstream, causing infection. Chagas disease can also be spread through blood transfusion, organ transplantation, from an infected pregnant mother to her unborn baby, or (in rare cases) by eating contaminated food or drinks that contain the kissing bug feces.”
To read more about the kissing bugs, how to clear your home of them and where to find them in Texas just read the Kissing Bug Chagas guide put out by Texas A&M AgriLife Research.