National News

Kissing bug disease more dangerous than thought, study finds

Posted June 6

— It's a bug that's commonly found here in Arizona.

Now a new study by doctors in Brazil found the infection kissing bugs can cause can more than double a person's risk of death.

The little bug loves to bite people around their lips and faces while they sleep, hence why it's called the kissing bug.

While it may look harmless, these bugs, found frequently around Arizona, are known to spread Chagas disease.

Generally considered to be mild or even asymptomatic in most cases, it can lead to death.

"Anybody who is bitten by these bugs should be very conscious of any flu symptoms, high fevers, swelling over the eye," said Dawn Gouge, an entomologist with the University of Arizona.

3TV/CBS 5 reached out to Gouge to see what this new study, carried out by doctors in Brazil, and published in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, could mean for us here, considering it found infection with Chagas increased risk of death by two to three times.

"Although a lot of the insects that were tested in the study came from Arizona and California were found to be carrying the parasite, it doesn't necessarily mean they can transmit it onto the human host," said Gouge.

Gouge says, if you can, you should really try to avoid being bitten by this bug.

"Pest proofing buildings helps enormously. They will fly at night quite considerable distances to the light," said Gouge.

What surprised and concerned Gouge the most about this study is that it found 40 percent of people whose blood tested positive for Chagas disease didn't have that infection stated on their death certificate, even when deaths were heart-related.

"When you think about the U.S., the leading cause of death, one in four deaths are due to heart disease of some kind, so, anything that causes chronic heart problems should be of a concern," said Gouge.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 300,000 cases of Chagas in the U.S. with most of those contracted in other countries.

According to the World Health Organization, more than six million people are estimated to be infected globally.

Researchers say if you're ever infected by Chagas early in life, you should be treated.

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