Back in 2013, a 49 year-old Texas woman, Candace Stark, donated blood in support of those suffering from leukemia. However, Candace was surprised when she received a letter from the Blood Centers of Central Texas telling her that she had chagas disease. Of course, the letter informed her that she could no longer donate blood, and that she would need to consult with a medical professional about her condition immediately. Candace’s condition is rare in the United States, especially when she was diagnosed with chagas disease six years ago, but in recent years, chagas disease cases have been increasing in Texas and other southern states.
Chagas disease is caused by a parasite known as T. cruzi, and this parasite originates from the feces of kissing bugs. Not only do kissing bugs bite humans, but they also defecate on human skin. In many cases, kissing bug bites are inflicted on the face, hence the insect’s common name. After sustaining a bite, people itch at their skin, which causes the fecal parasite to enter the bite wound, resulting in chagas disease. Although Candace does not specifically recall sustaining a bite from a kissing bug, she did spot and capture a kissing bug at her parents’ house around a year and a half after her chagas diagnosis. Testing revealed the captured kissing bug specimen to be a carrier of T. cruzi. Considering the significant amount of time Candance had spent at her parents’ house, she believes that she must have contracted the disease at some point while visiting.
Kissing bugs can be recognized by their black backs and the orange or red-colored stripes along their sides. Kissing bugs can be as small as a penney and as large as a quarter. While most biting insects pester people outdoors, kissing bugs are notorious for inflicting bites both indoors and outdoors, and they are often found within homes, particularly around beds. During the past several years, Texas public health officials have recorded 20 human cases of chagas that had been contracted by kissing bugs in the state. Sealing foundation cracks, installing door sweeps and replacing damaged window screens will help to keep kissing bugs out of homes. The disease is currently considered rare in the US, but cases are becoming more frequent.
Do you believe that chagas disease cases will continue to increase in the United States?