ST. GEORGE — A deadly “kissing bug” has crawled its way into the southern half of the United States, including Utah, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The “kissing bug,” more formally known as the triatomine insect, has been making headlines in recent weeks after cases of a parasitic infection called Chagas’ disease were reported in at least five states including Arkansas, Arizona, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Texas, according to the CDC.
Chagas’ disease, which may cause long-term cardiac damage and can be fatal if not treated, is caused by the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite and is spread almost exclusively through bites, typically on the lip, from the triatomine insect.
“These bugs feed on the blood of animals and people at night,” according to University of Utah Health Care, “and then they defecate. If people unknowingly wipe the feces into their eyes, nose, mouth, or a sore, they can get sick.”
Symptoms in the first few weeks or months may include rash, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting. However, once in the body, the parasite can remain hidden for years, eventually resulting in serious heart disease, including heart failure and abnormal heart rhythm, as well as intestinal damage.
While the disease can lead to serious complications, the vast majority of those infected will likely not show any symptoms.
According to the CDC, the deadly insect has made its way into every southern state, affecting more than half of the United States. The bugs are mainly found in rural Central and South America, but some experts are concerned that cases are beginning to rise in southern U.S. states.
Officials estimate that 8 million people in Mexico, Central America and South America have contracted the illness and estimate that 300,000 people with Chagas’ disease live in the United States.
Once the bugs have made their way inside your home, they tend to hide in cracks or under beds and mattresses, including pet bedding, then come out at night like bed bugs.
Precautions to prevent home infestation
- Seal cracks and gaps around windows, walls, roofs and doors
- Remove wood, brush, and rock piles near your house
- Make sure yard lights, which attract bugs, are not close to your house
- Have pets sleep indoors, especially at night
- Keep your house and any outdoor pet-resting areas clean, in addition to periodically checking both areas for the presence of bugs
“The insect should be safely captured and frozen, submerged in alcohol, or crushed with a shoe or rolled newspaper,” according to Utah Pests. “Do not handle the insect as that can result in a bite.”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- University of Utah Health Care
- Utah Pests Utah State University Extension
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