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Chagas disease continues to make inroads in Texas

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Courtesy photo
Triatoma gerstaeckeri is one of several types of the triatomine bug in Texas that has been found to carry the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite, the cause of Chagas disease.

Bandera County residents can help Texas A&M scientists collect data on Chagas disease by collecting the so-called kissing bugs that transmit the disease. With warmer weather and the recent rains, people are reporting sightings of the bug.
According to Doctors Without Borders, an international nonprofit medical mission, Chagas affects between six and seven million people, mostly in South and Central America. It kills up to 12,500 people each year.
Evidence of the disease in Mexico and Texas continues to grow.
The chronic form of Chagas can damage the heart, esophagus and the colon.
Human victims of the disease have been rare in the US, however, more and more cases in dogs have been seen, including in Bandera County.
The disease is transmitted by an insect called triatomines which carries the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi.
According to Doctors Without Borders, prevention is more effective than treatment.
According to Rachel Curtis, PhD student with Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University, "the parasite that can cause Chagas disease is spread by the infective feces of these bugs, so do not come in direct contact with them or areas they may have contaminated."
To collect a bug to send to the Hamer Lab at Texas A&M, place the bug in a zippered plastic sandwich bag and then in a bubble wrap mailer or a small box to submit. It is useful to include a note with each bug with your name, the date found, location found (address or zipcode), specific location (on the ground, hiding in a crack, near a light, etc), whether the bug was alive or dead, and time of day.
To avoid contamination by the infective feces, do not come in direct contact with them or areas they may have contaminated. "I generally turn the bag inside out and use it as a barrier when grabbing the bug," advised Curtis in an email sent to someone who had found a specimen.
Bagged bugs can be stored in the fridge or freezer. This will preserve the DNA and also serve the purpose of killing the bugs, since it is safest to mail once dead.
"We will identify these bugs and test for infection with the Chagas parasite," said Curtis. "This is for research purposes, and the results may not be available for several months."
The Hamer lab does not test all the bugs they receive.
"If you are interested in the result of your bug, you should email us approximately two-three months after submission to inquire about the result," said Curtis. "Every bug (whether tested or not) provides very valuable information about kissing bug distribution and behavior in Texas. Your bug submission will aid in answering many important questions about kissing bugs in Texas."
Mail the specimen to:
Hamer Lab, Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, TAMU 4458, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843. Contact the Texas A&M Research Team by email at KissingBug@cvm.tamu.edu prior to submitting the specimen.
According to a Texas A&M pamphlet created by Curtis and Sarah A. Hamer, PhD DVM, assistant professor, Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, the kennel environment can be a hotspot for Chagas disease transmission.
"High densities of dogs in confined areas are associated with heat and carbon dioxide that attract kissing bugs that seek bloodmeals. Furthermore, dogs may easily consume kissing bugs in kennels," the pamphlet says.
Adult kissing bugs engage in nocturnal flights to search for mates and mammals for blood-feeding. "Because adult bugs fly towards lights, we recommend that lights be turned off at night around kennels," the scientists said.
While some insecticides are effective against kissing bugs, the bugs can fly in from some distance and easily reinfest the area.
To download two informational pamphlets, visit: http://vetmed.tamu.edu/faculty/hamer-lab/projects/chagas-disease-eco-epidemiology.
There is currently no vaccination that protects against Chagas in either dogs or humans. Chagas became a reportable disease in 2013 and a recent veterinary study documented Chagas in domestic dogs in many counties in Texas.