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Chagas Disease and Kissing Bugs Appear in the Southern U.S.

Along with the other pests that become more active in the summer months, the kissing bug is once again raising concerns in dog owners. Don’t let it’s cutesy name fool you – it’s not any nicer than other biting bugs. Kissing bugs get their name from their ugly habit of biting people around the eyes and lips.

Image Source: Bernard DuPont via Wikimedia Commons

The bugs prefer warmer weather and are more prevalent in South America and the Southern United States, but have also been spotted as far North as Pennsylvania in the summer. There are 11 known species and at least eight (or more) carry the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which can cause Chagas disease in both humans and pets. It’s be transmitted when the bug bites and then defecates near the site of the bite, or if the bug is ingested.

Veterinarian Dr. Sarah Hamer with Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences recently gave an interview explaining how Chagas disease is transmitted and it’s effects.

The bugs are not as common in the U.S. as they are in South America. There’s no reason to panic however, veterinarians advise being vigilant as Chagas disease can cause heart failure, organ failure, and even death in dogs. Pets may not show any symptoms for several years. According to PetMd, dogs who are severely infected may display the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • lethargy
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • enlarged liver or spleen

There are no vaccines or medications that treat Chagas disease, but the symptoms (including heart disease) can be treated to help your dog live longer with the condition. Kissing bugs prefer to live in spaces where the chance of a meal is more likely, like dog houses and beds, kennels, and human homes. Keeping your dog’s bedding and living areas clean and free of bugs may help prevent infection.

Researchers with Texas A&M Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences have been studying the bugs and the disease to better understand it. If you spot a Kissing Bug, you can follow instructions for contacting the University about it by clicking here.


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Written by Adriana Sandoval
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