The United States is being infected by Chagas, a deadly disease spread by the feces of a parasite nicknamed the “kissing bug.” It bites sleeping victims, ingests the blood and defecates on them; patients then unknowingly rub the feces into open membranes.
Chagas disease is seen as a “silent killer” by those who study and treat it, as it can often lurk in people’s bloodstreams for up to two decades before causing their organs to fail. The initial stage of the tropical illness ‒ the acute phase ‒ is mostly symptom-free and lasts for the first few weeks or months, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If a patient does exhibit symptoms, they can easily be mistaken for another disease.
The symptoms noted by the patient can include fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting. The signs on physical examination can include mild enlargement of the liver or spleen, swollen glands, and local swelling (a chagoma) where the parasite entered the body, the CDC explained.
“People don’t normally feel sick,” Melissa Nolan Garcia, a research associate at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the lead author of two of three recently published studies, explained in a statement, “so they don’t seek medical care, but it ultimately ends up causing heart disease in about 30 percent of those who are infected.”
It is the second ‒ or chronic‒ phase that is deadly. Patients can develop cardiac complications, including an enlarged heart (cardiomyopathy), heart failure, altered heart rate or rhythm, and cardiac arrest (sudden death), as well as intestinal complications, such as an enlarged esophagus (megaesophagus) or colon (megacolon) and can lead to difficulties with eating or with passing stool.
In July, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that 300,000 people in the US had been infected, and but now it could be closer to 400,000. Medical research suggests that 40,000 pregnant North American women may be infected with the disease at any given time, resulting in 2,000 congenital cases through mother-to-child transmission, according to Fox News Latino. Garcia believes that the numbers may actually be higher than that, the Examiner reported.