'Kissing Bug Disease' Gaining Traction Among Immigrants

Monday, 28 Jul 2014 03:01 PM

By Nick Tate

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Health officials are warning that Chagas — the so-called "kissing bug disease," common in Latin America — is gaining traction among immigrants in the U.S., particularly near Washington, D.C.
About a dozen cases of Chagas disease have been diagnosed just outside the nation’s capital, and doctors and experts say they wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers were higher, The Atlantic reports.
 
Doctors, unfamiliar with the disease, are not routinely screening for it, and many patients are undocumented immigrants without health insurance. Chagas doesn’t pose a major risk to the general population in the U.S., but patient advocates believe it is being largely ignored because of its connections to poverty and immigration.
 
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 8 million people have Chagas, most of them in Latin America. Triatomines, or the so-called "kissing bugs" that transmit the disease, live in the cracks of walls in rural houses made of mud and thatched roofs and they bite people at night, passing the parasite through their feces.
 
The bite itself is painless, and many people never show any signs of the disease. But a third of those with Chagas develop heart disease. An estimated 11,000 people lose their lives every year to the disease, according to the WHO.

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