What you need to know about Kissing Bugs in Missouri

In addition to causing heart disease, the parasite can also cause gastrointestinal syndromes.

Maria Keena
July 29, 2019 - 11:58 am

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) — A parasitic bug, known as the Kissing Bug sounds cute, but it can cause a chronic infection that leads to heart disease and even death.

Dr. Dan Hoft, SLUCare Infectious Diseases Expert, breaks down the Kissing Bug's insidious nature.

In addition to causing heart disease, Hoft says the parasite can also cause gastrointestinal syndromes.

"Known as mega syndrome, where the nerves that supply the gut, get damaged from the parasite actually causing inflammation," Hoft said. "And that results in the gut segments massively dilating and being unable to push food through, so people get malnourished."

Hoft estimates 8 to 12 million people are infected throughout Latin America and about 300,000 in the U.S. The Kissing Bug is in our area, and thought to be directly related to global warming.

And there's another public health consequence: an allergic response. When the bugs take a blood meal, they inject some molecules from their salivary glands to help them take the blood meal. Some people with allergic tendencies can develop significant allergies and develop bad reactions to current exposures.

So why are they called the Kissing Bug? Hoft says "at night they come out, they are attracted to the carbon dioxide that we exhale. That makes them come to the face, they then bite around the nose and mouth."

While a bite from the Kissing Bug can sometimes lead to the fatal Chagas Disease, there have been no deaths reported in the U.S.

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