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In July of 2018, a child in Delaware was bitten by a “kissing bug,” which transmits the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi that causes Chagas disease, the CDC recently reported. Fortunately, the insect was not infected with the parasite and the child was unharmed.
The child was bitten in her home in Kent County, Delaware, and her parents contacted both the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) and the Delaware Department of Agriculture for help. Staff at the Delaware DPH identified the insect as Triatoma sanguisuga and they confirmed the identification with Texas A&M University’s Kissing Bug Citizen Science Program, which documents and collects T sanguisuga in the United States, and the CDC. The family had not traveled outside the United States (US), making this the first definitively confirmed sighting of the insect in Delaware.
Triatoma sanguisuga typically live throughout the southern United States but have been reported as far north as Pennsylvania and Illinois. Research has predicted a continued northern shift in the distribution of Chagas vectors in the US as a result of climate change. Trypanosoma cruzi has also been found throughout the southern half of the US, though local transmission is currently rare, according to CDC experts. Most of the roughly 300 000 US individuals with Chagas disease were infected in Latin America. Untreated Chagas disease causes serious heart and gastrointestinal problems in 30% of those with chronic infections and often escapes detection until complications develop.
The authors of the latest CDC report recommend those living in US areas with T sanguisuga take preventive measures, including sealing off potential points of entry into homes and removing nearby wood piles or lighting that may attract insects.
Kuehn B. Delaware Kissing Bug. JAMA. 2019;321(22):2156. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.6917
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