Officials watching out for the blood-sucking ‘kissing bug’ in Louisiana

Officials watching out for the blood-sucking ‘kissing bug’ in Louisiana
Kissing bug

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The infamous bite of the “kissing bug,” known for passing along the potentially fatal Chagas disease, is the focus of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alert issued after investigators learned in April of 2019 that a young girl was bitten by one on the face in July of 2018 in Delaware.

Louisiana has confirmed 13 Chagas disease infections in the state’s history. Twelve of those cases were asymptomatic. Only 8 were proven to have been acquired in Louisiana, while the others may have only been diagnosed in the state but acquired overseas or in another state.

Cases were documented in the following parishes:

  • Acadia
  • Ascension
  • Caddo
  • Iberia
  • Jefferson
  • Lafayette
  • Pointe Coupee
  • St. Charles
  • St. Landry
  • St. Martin
  • Terrebonne

While the idea of a stealthy bug literally spreading the kiss of death may be the thing of nightmares, specialists say it’s the bug’s feeding process that’s more worrisome than its bite. As the bug feeds on blood, it defecates and spreads parasites through its feces. Transmission usually occurs when the feces is unwittingly rubbed into the itchy bite wounds by an unsuspecting victim.

Julius L. Tonzel, a vector-borne diseases epidemiologist with the Louisiana Department of Health, noted the likelihood of infection in the U.S. is low - there’s around a 1 in 400 chance of being exposed. However, he still offered information that can help Louisiana residents lower the chance of exposure.

HOW CHAGAS IS TRANSMITTED:

  • Triatomine bugs (Kissing bugs)
  • Congenital transmission
  • Blood transfusions
  • Organ transplantation
  • Consuming undercooked food

TIPS TO LIMIT EXPOSURE TO THE DISEASE-CARRYING INSECTS:

  • Use bed nets treated with long-lasting insecticides
  • Wear protective clothing
  • Apply insect repellent to exposed skin
  • Be aware of blood borne and food borne transmission
  • Seal cracks and gaps around windows, walls, roofs, and doors
  • Use screens on doors and windows
  • Repair holes or tears
  • Keep living areas and outdoor pet resting areas clean
  • The CDC recommends locating outdoor lights away from homes, dog kennels and chicken coops and turning off lights when not in use
  • Surfaces that come into contact with the insect should also be thoroughly cleaned.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND A BUG KNOWN FOR CARRYING THE DISEASE:

  • DO NOT TOUCH IT DIRECTLY
  • Use gloves or a plastic bag to place it in a Ziploc bag
  • Take a picture of the bug and contact LDH

You can read Tonzel’s full report by clicking the link here.

You can read the Louisiana Office of Public Health’s complete timeline of Chagas infections in the state below.

TIMELINE OF INFECTIONS DOCUMENTED IN LOUISIANA:

2006

  • In July of 2006, officials documented the first human case of insect-transmitted Chagas parasite in Louisiana. The discovery marked the sixth ever confirmation in the U.S. Interviewers said a pest control operator found kissing bugs while assisting residents. Two residents were tested for Chagas, one of which tested positive for the antibodies to the Chagas parasite.

2011

  • One case was reported in a resident of St. Martin Parish. This resident reported no significant potential exposures outside the U.S., but did report a history of recreational camping.
  • Another case was a resident of Lafayette Parish who could not be contacted for an interview.

2012

  • A resident in Saint Charles Parish that was born in Central America was diagnosed via blood donation screening. Interviewers noted the resident mentioned having surgery under her arm previously.

2013

  • One case, a resident living in the Opelousas area, noted a history of recreational camping in the state. The infected person noted to investigators they suffered an insect bite with subsequent swelling the next morning. This case was diagnosed via blood donation screening.
  • The second case was an Acadia Parish resident.

2014

  • A Mexican immigrant living in the Terrebonne Parish was diagnosed via blood donation screening.

2015

  • A resident of the Pointe Coupee area had spent some time outdoors and in a cabin in the woods and later suffered an asymptomatic infection.
  • The second asymptomatic case, an Iberia Parish resident, had no history of international travel, but told interviewers they spent a considerable amount of time camping. This case was also detected after a blood donation.
  • An immigrant construction worker from Mexico living in the Jefferson Parish area suffered cardiac arrest, fever, confusion, leukocytosis, thrombocytopenia, and was under the care and supervision of a cardiologist.

2017

  • An asymptomatic individual became infected through an organ transplant. The organ donor had previously lived in Central America.
  • An asymptomatic individual from Caddo parish was diagnosed.
  • Bugs known to carry the disease were found near a home in Ascension Parish. A resident told interviewers he had not traveled outside of the country around the time the infection was discovered, but had visited South America several years prior. He was identified through a blood donation screening test. Confirmatory testing was not performed until 2018.

Copyright 2019 WAFB. All rights reserved.