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Precautions keep kissing bugs out

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

One of the challenges in writing about the growing threat of Chagas disease in Texas is the lack of data. Most studies date back at least a couple of years. However, trends detected by the Texas Department of Health Services and the federal Centers for Disease Control have been indicating for some time now that the disease is a growing threat across the Southwest.

Dogs seem to be particularly vulnerable to the disease, carried in the feces of the so-called kissing bug, also known locally as a bloodsucker. The insect carries the disease-causing parasite, Trypansoma cruzi, to the victim. The parasite then ravages the heart, nerves and muscles of the victim.

Because victims may die of heart disease, kidney failure or respiratory failure, the underlying cause of death, trypanosomiasis, may be overlooked.

In South America, where the disease has been prevalent for a longer period of time, it is the fourth leading cause of death.

According to the CDC, there are 11 different species of triatomine bugs found in the southern United States. Not all of them have been proven to carry the parasite.

The CDC advises consulting with a licensed pest control operator if you are thinking about controlling the insect with insecticides. Bait formulations such as roach hotels commonly are not effective against triatomine bugs.

Other precautions to prevent house infestation include:
• Sealing cracks and gaps around windows, walls, roofs, and doors
• Removing wood, brush, and rock piles near your house
• Using screens on doors and windows and repairing any holes or tears
• If possible, making sure yard lights are not close to your house (lights can attract the bugs)
• Sealing holes and cracks leading to the attic, crawl spaces below the house, and to the outside
• Having pets sleep indoors, especially at night
• Keeping your house and any outdoor pet resting areas clean, in addition to periodically checking both areas for the presence of bugs.

Thanks to the Texas Legislature, Chagas is now a reportable disease for both animals and humans and the state health department has begun collecting data.

According to Nicole Evert, epidemiologist with the health department, "It just became reportable in January of this year and there have been no confirmed human cases this year yet. However, the system is just getting up and running."

According to one Texas study, eight percent of all military training dogs and over 100 monkeys at the Southwest Research primate colony in San Antonio are infected.

Ed Wozniak, with the zoonosis control department of the state health department, has found 35-75 percent of the triatomine bugs he has collected in Central Texas carrying the disease.