Kissing bugs have invaded Texas and other southern states, and giving people a parasitic infection called Chagas.
"I think we are likely under-diagnosing and mismanaging a lot of Houstonians and a lot of Texas residents with this disease. So it really is imperative that we start screening people that are at high risk," Melissa Garcia, Baylor College of Medicine research associate, told KPRC Houston
"If you don't get treatment it can progress and it can be fatal."
Chagas disease is typically seen in tropical climates like Mexico and South America, where it's spread by Triatominae, commonly referred to as assassin bugs or kissing bugs – which bite like mosquitos. Many may not realize they've been bitten, as they often strike while their victims are asleep, biting people on their faces.
The CDC now estimates that roughly 300,000 people in the lower half of the U.S. are carrying Chagas disease unknowingly.
In a recent presentation at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene meeting in New Orleans, Garcia presented her team's findings after following 17 Houston-area residents who had been infected, The Washington Post reported
"We were astonished to not only find such a high rate of individuals testing positive for Chagas in their blood, but also high rates of heart disease that appear to be Chagas-related," she said.
Between 2008 and 2012, Garcia's team analyzed blood donors to discover that, in Texas, 1 in 6,500 tested positive for Chagas disease. That statistic is 50 times higher than the current CDC estimate.
Nifurtimox and benznidazole are common treatments for those in the early stages of Chagas.
The researchers want to make sure that local physicians are on the lookout for signs of the disease, and to test for it more frequently.
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