More than 300,00 people in the United States are infected with a potentially fatal disease, and many of those infected have no idea they have the disease. The disease is called the “kissing bug” disease, named after the blood sucking insect responsible for spreading it but is officially known as Chagas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the disease is endemic to tropical areas such as Mexico and Central and South America where millions have been infected.
Findings about the disease were recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. The disease is caused by a parasite that spreads through the feces of kissing bugs and initial symptoms can include fever, fatigue, body aches, rash, diarrhea and vomiting. The disease can be hard to diagnose because after the initial acute stage, many people experience a prolonged asymptomatic phase during which the disease is still transmitted. Left undiagnosed, the disease can cause intestinal complications and even heart failure.
There are two medicines that can treat the disease, but they have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yet. The CDC is able to give the drugs since there is no alternative treatment available. However, many who are infected are never treated. This treatment gap as well as the high number of undiagnosed cases makes the disease a silent killer. The asymptomatic phase also means many people do not realize they have the disease until it has progressed to a point where treatment is no longer helpful.
Some are referring to Chagas as the new AIDS because of the absence of symptoms that can lead to fatal complications when left untreated. Nolan Garcia, an epidemiologist at Baylor College of Medicine states, “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.” Physicians have failed to diagnose patients who do have Chagas, and officials are considering what needs to be done to improve early diagnosis so that so many patients to face life threatening and fatal consequences of not being treated.