After reports of South America’s Chagas disease began spreading throughout the U.S. states that border Mexico, many were worried for their lives.
Though the majority of people infected with the disease, which comes from parasites that live on “kissing bugs”, live in Central and South America, researchers did find cases of the possibly fatal illness in the U.S.
Today, many in Laredo, Texas are worried their close proximity to the border has left them vulnerable to the disease.
However, the director of the Laredo Health Department, Hector Gonzalez, has stated, “we have no cases of Chagas disease..The bug is here though. It’s endemic here. It lives here.”
Since kissing bugs are attracted to a person’s breath, bites often occur around the person’s face, and once said bites swell and begin to itch, a person will often scratch. The wounds left by the scratching allow the parasite to enter the person’s skin.
Symptoms of the disease during the acute phase are fever, malaise, swelling of one eye, and a swollen red area where they were bit by the insect, though early on, no symptoms may be present. The disease then tends to go into remission, often times for years, before it presents itself once again, causing constipation, digestive problems, abdominal pain, enlarged lymph nodes, enlarged liver and spleen, irregular heartbeat, rapid heartbeat, and problems with swallowing.
When it returns, which could be as much as 20 years after the initial infection, it can cause cardiomyopathy, enlarge the colon and/or esophagus, heart disease, heart failure, and malnutrition.
To stave off the parasite-carrying kissing bugs, Gonzalez recommends people practice good hygiene and see a doctor if they feel sick.
He says Laredo’s good sanitation system helps provide protection from the bugs, adding that those having read articles about Chagas disease being in the Laredo need not be so alarmed.
“As far as I understand…some biologists at UT PAN-AM who are doing studies and made statements, but we don’t have the disease.”