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The Kissing Bug and Chagas Disease

Updated on October 21, 2012

The Kissing Bug

The Kissing bug is a bug with a cone-shaped head and a flattened body. Kissing bugs are dark brown to black colored, and they have a prominent beak (proboscis). Kissing bugs are blood suckers, they are nocturnal, and usually feed after sun-set. They are attracted to light at night, attracted to host odors and warmth. These bugs are known by other names, as well, such as assassin bugs, conenosed bugs, and reduviid bugs. The Kissing bug gets its name from the fact that the bugs like to bite people near the mouth, but they will bite other areas of the body, as well.

Kissing bugs carry a parasite that causes Chagas Disease. The kissing bugs carry a protozoan parasite called: Trypanosoma Cruzi. When a person is infected with the parasite, the parasites multiply in the cells of the body, the infected cells burst, then the parasites are released into the bloodstream. The parasite that causes Chagas Disease lives in the digestive system of the kissing bug.

The Kissing Bug

Close up of a kissing bug
Close up of a kissing bug | Source

Chagas Disease

Chagas Disease may have been around at least for 9,000 years, before the disease was first recognized in modern times by a Brazilian doctor named Carlos Chagas in 1909. The parasite: Trypanosoma cruzi has been discovered in mummified remains from the ancient Chinchorro Culture of South America, so this disease has been around for a long time. Chagas disease is a major health issue in Central and South America. It has been compared to AIDS (as the new AIDS of the Americas), but Chagas Disease is not a sexually transmitted disease, unlike AIDS. Chagas Disease is a parasite-born, and a tropical disease. Charles Darwin is thought to have contracted the Chagas disease during his explorations. He may have been bitten by kissing bugs and infected with the Chagas disease. Not all people, who get bitten by kissing bugs and are infected, will get sick. About 10% of people, who get infected, will get sick.

Trypanosoma cruzi

The Kissing Bug

Life Cycle of the Kissing Bug
Life Cycle of the Kissing Bug | Source

The Spread of the Disease Worldwide

The Chagas disease is spreading worldwide. Cases have been seen in Japan and Western Europe. As climate changes continue as predicted kissing bugs are expected to migrate further north in the United States.The are 11 different species of the kissing bug in the southern United States. Most at risk are young children and people with compromised immune systems. The highest risk is in Central and South America, where the disease is most prevalent and has been well-known for many years.


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