Amarillo, TX - A bug that transmits a deadly parasite is making its way across Texas, and researchers at Texas A&M University are asking for help to track it.
The insect known as the 'kissing bug' is normally found in Mexico and other parts of Central America, but their presence in Texas is becoming more prominent. That is why scientists are asking citizens across the state to keep an eye out for them.
The kissing bug is a nasty looking insect and it can give the kiss of death in bite form to humans, dogs and other mammals. "It can be fatal," said Dr. Martin Pearson, a veterinarian at Noah's Ark Pet Hospital. "It almost always is."
Some of the bugs are carriers of a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi that causes Chagas disease. When infected kissing bugs bite a host, they fill up with blood and then defecate near the bite wound. If the parasitic feces transmits to your bloodstream, the symptoms can feel like the flu but the aftermath is much worse. "T-cruzi as they call it actually infects heart muscle and skeletal muscle. It will infect a cell and multiply really quickly inside the cell until it fills it up to the point it bursts," said Dr. Pearson. The end result is commonly cardiac arrest or intestinal complications. As of right now, there is no known cure.
Chagas disease is a relatively new threat to Texas, so Texas A&M researchers from the School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences are asking citizens to help them collect kissing bugs from regions across the state.
They have also enlisted the help of local veterinarians like Dr. Pearson. "The researcher who is actually doing the work on Chagas disease has actually gone around to veterinarians and asked us if we run across any kissing bugs to throw them in a baggy and throw the baggy in the freezer to kill them, then mail them to her so she can check and see if they can find any evidence of T-cruzi in the kissing bugs," said Dr. Pearson.
Kissing bugs with T-cruzi have been found in the Dallas area, but so far the Panhandle is in the clear. "It's not a big challenge for us in the Amarillo area, but it's always something we need to keep any eye out for," said Dr. Pearson.
If you find a kissing bug and are interested in submitting it to Texas A&M, email their research team at KissingBug@cvm.tamu.edu. When collecting the bug, avoid direct contact with the bug, its feces or areas contaminated by the bug.