The kissing bug is frequently seen in the Rio Grande Valley, but researchers say that the parasite that carries a deadly disease is not well known in the area— where it is prevalent.
“Chagas disease is an infectious disease that is transmitted by an insect,” said Teresa Feria, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Texas Río Grande Valley. “This insect is called the kissing bug.”
Feria says the kissing bug is prevalent in the Valley because of the tropical climate. If left untreated after being bitten by the kissing bug, Chagas disease could turn deadly by causing heart failure.
The kissing bug feeds off the blood of rodents or feral cats and dogs. From there, they come out at night and look for humans through the carbon dioxide they breath out. The kissing bug then bites and feeds off the person’s blood. When a person scratches themselves, the bug’s feces with the Chagas parasite enters the person’s blood stream.
“Doctors don’t know the symptoms,” Feria said. “The people don’t know about the disease because when you are sick you immediately think, ‘Oh I have [the] flu. I have all these symptoms’.”
Feria adds that there are no clear immediate symptoms, except for an immediate rash or inflammation at the bite site. Feria recommends that people get blood work done to check for Chagas within two weeks of getting bitten to help lower the long-term effects with antibiotics.
In recent research, graduate UTRGV biology researcher, Adam Wiejaczka, found that 80 percent of the people he spoke with across the Río Grande Valley were unaware of Chagas disease.
Wiejaczka noticed a trend where people who obtained a higher education were more aware of the disease, as compared to those who obtained less. The latter group would also be more vulnerable to the disease due to where they lived.
Alamo resident María Hernández says she never heard of Chagas disease. “But I do watch out for mosquitoes that bite and transmit infectious diseases,” Hernández said.
In order to keep the kissing bug out of the home, Feria recommends people keep their homes and properties clean by cleaning behind wall frames, furniture, beds and kennels.
Feria said that when encountering a kissing bug around the house, do not squish it, but rather spray it with cockroach spray.
Local valley residents can help with further Chagas’ disease research by safely trapping a kissing bug they encounter into a small container and contacting Feria at 956-665-7322.