Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that a girl in Delaware had her face bitten by a Triatomine bug—more commonly known as the “kissing bug,” USA Today reports. Kissing bugs, which get their nickname because they usually bite people’s faces, can carry the fatal Chagas disease and infect humans through bug bites.
The young girl did not get the disease, health officials said, and Chagas is found mainly in rural areas of Latin America. Receiving an infection from kissing bugs is “not easy,” according to the CDC. Kissing bugs usually “suck” blood after they bite, followed by defecating on the victim. Only if the feces both contains a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi and the feces enters the body can a bug bite lead to Chagas.
The CDC estimates that over 300,000 individuals in the U.S. have Chagas disease, most of whom caught the infection while in Latin America. The kissing bugs themselves are also found in southern parts of the U.S.
Acute variants of Chagas are determined through a blood test. In the weeks or months following an infection, the CDC says that patients may have few-to-no symptoms such as headache, rash, loss of appetite, vomiting, body aches, fever, or diarrhea. But because these are common symptoms of other diseases, people rarely suspect Chagas to be the culprit.
While the chronic variants of Chagas can persist over a lifetime with few persistent symptoms, variants affecting gastrointestinal and cardiac functions, which occur in 20 to 30 percent of people with the disease, can lead to fatal outcomes.
Though there are no vaccinations to prevent Chagas, antiparasitic medicines can treat T. cruzi.