The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL -

This bug creeps in the night and bites you on your face while you’re fast asleep, and you’ll never know it hap­pened un­til you be­come dan­ger­ously ill from the dis­ease it spreads, which is be­ing dubbed the “new AIDS of the Amer­i­cas” by re­searchers be­cause its ini­tial symp­toms are hard to de­tect. Many call it the “kiss­ing bug” due to its ex­clu­sive at­tack place be­ing one’s face, but doc­tors are call­ing it a silent killer — and aren’t com­pletely pre­pared for it yet.

The re­du­viid bug has re­cently made its way north onto U.S. soil. En­demic to Latin Amer­ica, it has al­ready in­fected 17 res­i­dents in Hous­ton, Texas, the Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported. The tiny in­sect feeds on hu­man blood much like a mos­quito, but it is spe­cific to bit­ing the face of its vic­tims. Re­du­viid bugs carry a par­a­site called Try­panosoma cruzi, which causes Cha­gas dis­ease in its hu­man hosts.

At the on­set of the dis­ease, the in­fected will ex­pe­ri­ence fever, fa­tigue, body aches, rash, di­ar­rhea and vom­it­ing, ac­cord­ing to the CDC. This ini­tial acute stage turns into a pro­longed asymp­to­matic state for some bit­ten by the bug, at which time a few par­a­sites are found in the blood, the CDC noted. How­ever, the dis­ease can cause heart fail­ure and in­testi­nal com­pli­ca­tions over time.

“Peo­ple don’t nor­mally feel sick, so they don’t seek med­i­cal care, but it ul­ti­mately ends up caus­ing heart dis­ease in about 30 per cent of those who are in­fected,” said Nolan Gar­cia, an epi­demi­ol­o­gist at the Bay­lor Col­lege of Medicine in Hous­ton whose re­search fo­cused on Cha­gas dis­ease in the U.S. “We think of Cha­gas dis­ease as a silent killer,” Gar­cia added.

The Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Trop­i­cal Medicine and Hy­giene (ASTMH) re­leased a re­port last week out­lin­ing the ram­i­fi­ca­tion of this bug in­fes­ta­tion and claimed U.S. health care work­ers lack aware­ness which pre­vents suc­cess­ful di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment of Cha­gas dis­ease. The re­port noted that the dearth of fed­er­ally li­censed drugs to com­bat the dis­ease also lim­its pa­tients’ ac­cess to treat­ment.

Although there have been sev­eral con­firmed cases in Amer­ica, CDC of­fi­cials be­lieve most peo­ple in­fected with Cha­gas dis­ease con­tracted the par­a­site in Mex­ico or South Amer­ica be­fore com­ing to the U.S. About 7 mil­lion to 8 mil­lion peo­ple are thought to be in­fected with the par­a­site world­wide, mostly in Latin Amer­ica, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion has said.

Con­sid­er­ing the symp­toms of the dis­ease can be eas­ily at­trib­uted to so many other common health is­sues, Susan Mont­gomery of the CDC’s par­a­sitic dis­eases branch es­ti­mates there may be more in­di­vid­u­als in­fected with Cha­gas dis­ease than what has ac­tu­ally been con­firmed.

“We don’t know how of­ten that is hap­pen­ing be­cause there may be cases that are un­di­ag­nosed, since many doc­tors would not think to test their pa­tients for this dis­ease.” Mont­gomery as­sured Americans the risk of in­fec­tion is “very low.”

Cha­gas dis­ease is like the sis­ter dis­ease to Ebola, but much more stealthy.

The red uviid bug is said to be in­vad­ing the


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