Disease Creeping Across Our Southern Border

kissA silent killer, spread by bugs that bite your face in the night, is making the U.S. its new home.

About 7 to 8 million people are infected, mostly in Latin America, by the bite of the kissing bug that carries the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite, which causes the disease. Where once confined entirely to Latin America, legal and illegal immigration has spread the disease to America, Canada, Europe and Asia. The CDC estimates that around 300,000 U.S. citizens have already been infected but the number could grow as more doctors become aware of the disease and begin screening patients.

The disease, spread through the feces of kissing bugs, is called a silent killer because you are normally asymptomatic until the disease has progressed to the point that conventional treatment is not helpful. Infection can also be acquired through blood transfusions, birth from infected mother, and organ donation.

Chagas disease presents itself in two phases.

The initial, acute phase lasts about two months after infection during which a high number of parasites circulate in the blood. In most cases, symptoms are absent or very mild but can include fever, headache, enlarged lymph glands, pallor, muscle pain, difficulty breathing, swelling and abdominal or chest pain. In less than 50% of people the first visible sign you have been infected can be a skin lesion or a purplish swelling of the lid of one eye.

By the time the disease reaches its chronic phase, the parasites are hidden mainly in the heart and digestive muscle. Symptoms can now include enlargement of the oesophagus or colon, neurological or mixed alterations, and eventual destruction of the heart muscle, resulting in death.

Chagas can be treated with benznidazole and nifurtimox, both of which are almost 100% effective if given soon after infection or the onset of the acute phase but neither of which has yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Both drugs can cause nerve damage, nausea and weight loss so the CDC only makes them available where no alternative exits.

Triatomine bugs, aka kissing bugs, assassin bugs, blood suckers, are found in the Southern U.S. and as far south as Argentina. There are 11 different varieties found in the U.S., all feeding on the blood of mammals, birds and reptiles. While they can live indoors in walls and cracks of substandard housing, most are found outdoors, living beneath concrete, under rocks, beneath porches, in dog houses or kennels, etc. The CDC would remind us that not all Triatomine bugs are infected with the parasite that causes Chagas and the likelihood of getting the disease in the US is low, even if the bug is infected.

Along with Chagas disease, historically rare diseases are crossing our southern border, diseases such as scabies, chicken pox, MRSA staph infection, TB, Enterovirus D68, Leprosy, Malaria, Dengue fever, etc., diseases which the Obama Administration is spreading throughout the United States and into our children’s schools.


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