Kissing bug reports in Houston

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The kissing bug is a cause for concern among health experts in Texas. More sightings are being reported, but is everyone who has the disease being treated?

Two science policy experts at Rice University said the Chagas disease could be going unnoticed in many people in southern Texas. Their concern is that if it goes unnoticed for too long, it can result in death.

I think that’s one of the main problems right, is kind of a lack of physician awareness,” said Jennifer Herricks,  a Baker Institute Post Doctorate Fellow who  co-authored a paper on the diseases.

Herrick said the number of Chagas cases reported, since doctors started screening blood for the infection started in 2007, has increased.

But then you’re only looking at the blood donor population so there’s a whole population of people that haven’t been tested that may still be infected.”

Chagas is a disease that’s caused by a parasite usually transmitted by a bug scientists refer to as the “kissing bug”.

It will go to take a blood meal usually around the face, and when it bites the bug also defecates releasing the parasite,” said Herricks.

The Center For Disease control reports in the U.S., up to 10 percent of dogs in shelters in southern Texas have tested positive for Chagas. And Kristen Matthews another expert at Rice University said  pets can transport the bugs inside the home.

It’s actually something we’re worried about in Texas,” said Matthews. “It might be with hunters, any exposure while they’re in the outdoors, people going out outdoors and hiking.”

Another report from the PLOS, Neglected Tropical Diseases, shows 17 blood donors were confirmed to have the disease in Houston from 2013-2014

“We really need to ramp up surveillance and get some better diagnostics so that we can really know what the true disease burden here, in the state is, so that we can react,” said Herricks.