With the cute nickname of the “kissing bug,” most people would probably assume that the triatomine bug would be not only harmless, but perhaps even well-liked. Unfortunately, the truth behind the nickname is much more sinister. These bugs attack sleeping people by biting their lips or face, and this enables them to spread the potentially deadly Chagas disease. Kissing bugs have taken up residence in Georgia, and they have also recently been found in at least three other states.
Has Anyone Gotten Sick?
Statistics compiled by the World Health Organization indicate that 8 million people worldwide are affected by Chagas disease, and approximately 12,000 infected individuals die each year. The good news for Georgia residents is that there have been no confirmed cases in the Peach State this year, but other parts of the South have not been so lucky.
In Texas, there have already been 12 reported incidents, and the kissing bug has also been spotted in Pennsylvania and Alabama. Overall, though, experts have stated that the odds of getting sick in the U.S. from Chagas disease are very low. The fatality rate for citizens who did not contract the disease outside of the country has been non-existent so far.
How to Protect Yourself
Cases of Chagas disease may be low, but it is still necessary to take precautions. After all, if you are bitten by the kissing bug, you could end up dealing with multiple complications. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to help reduce or even eliminate your risk of receiving the triatomine bug’s dangerous kiss. For example, you can make your property less inviting to these insects by moving all brush, rock and wood piles far away from your house.
It is also important to ensure that any gaps or cracks in your roof, windows, doors and walls are sealed. Do not forget to seal off any access to your basement, attic or crawl space as well, and use screens for all of your doors and windows. Lights attract these bugs, so make sure not to leave any yard lights on if they are located close to your house. Additionally, you should always bring your pets in at night. In 2013, the disease-causing parasite that is spread by the kissing bug claimed the lives of more than 400 dogs in Texas.
What Exactly is Chagas Disease?
According to the CDC, Chagas disease impacts the stomach and heart. The kissing bug defecates into the wound after biting someone’s lips or face, and the itchiness that accompanies the bite causes most people to scratch the infected feces into their bloodstream. This is a disturbing process, but the majority of victims have no idea that it has even happened because the bug’s bite and their subsequent scratching usually happens while the person is sleeping.
The initial symptoms of Chagas disease typically make themselves known within a couple of weeks to a couple of months after the bite. If you experience body aches and a fever accompanied by eyelid swelling or swelling at the site of the bite, it is important to seek medical attention.
More than 50 percent of the people who are bitten by the kissing bug will not develop additional symptoms. However, if you are in the unfortunate minority, you may develop an increased stroke risk, digestion problems, an enlarged heart and an irregular heart beat that could potentially cause sudden death.
Even though the overall risk of being bitten by one of these bugs is low, it is still important to remain vigilant. If you live in Georgia or will be vacationing there this winter, make sure that you put every applicable precaution in place to protect your health.