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Too Much of a Good Thing 3: Kissing Bug Disease

by Beth Divine 8 Sep 2018

Kissing bugs sound cute until you learn that they are so called because they like to bite humans around their mouths and other facial areas. The bugs – triatominae, is their Latin name, but they also go by chinche or chinch, chipo and even barbeiro, the latter meaning ‘the barber’ – like to live in close proximity to people, and they come out to feed at night.

While this is gross enough, these little bugs live on human blood, like mosquitoes or leeches, and (as if that all was not enough!) they carry a parasite in their blood that passes into humans upon being bitten. The parasite is called Trypanosoma Cruzi (t cruzi for short), and it is a seriously nasty prospect.

The disease presents in two stages: the first stage is acute, and often presents with no or very mild, non-specific symptoms such as fever, fatigue, muscle and head aches, stomach upsets and possibly a rash. The most distinctive sign of kissing bug disease, also known as Chagas, is a swelling around the eye, known as Romana’s sign. This swelling occurs on the side of the face that the bite has taken place and is called a chagoma.

The secondary stage is chronic and occurs over a fair period of time. During this phase, and indeed during the acute stage, serious damage can be done to the body, especially to heart tissue. Chagas can be fatal and it is often because of this irrevocable heart damage. Now, only about five per cent of those diagnosed with Chagas go on to die from it, so it is not a very lethal ailment. But it is tricky to diagnose promptly, and it is all too possible to suffer long term damage from the parasite.

The insects live in homes, and the best way to make sure that they are not feasting on you while you sleep is by keeping your home, and your bedroom in particular, scrupulously clean. These bugs show up most often in homes where many people are packed into a small space, and where rigorous cleaning practises are not upheld. So, as nice as the idea of having all your family and friends living at close quarters might be, make sure you keep them at arm’s length long enough to debug the sleeping quarters!