Okay. I’ll own up. Master Gardener and columnist Gwen DeWitt did not write the column on Kissing Bugs on Aug. 9. And she did not have the nasty bug in her kitchen. I did. An accidental mix-up of our columns’ bylines created a small tizzy in our world!
I have also received several concerned comments about Chagas disease. Some clarification is in order. The disease is caused by a protozoan that lives in the gut of the Kissing Bug. If a Kissing Bug bites a human or other mammal, the parasite can be transmitted to the victim. Not all of the bugs carry the parasite; one study showed that less than 50% are carriers. And not all bites result in infection in the victim. However, if a person (or animal) is infected with the parasite, the host’s body makes antibodies against it. These antibodies circulate in the bloodstream of the host for the rest of his or her life. So the best way to detect if you have been exposed to Chagas disease is to have your blood checked for the presence of these antibodies. The test, called an immunological test, has been available since 2006. Veterinarians can also order the test for dogs.
There is treatment for Chagas disease. The CDC has okayed two anti-parasitic drugs that seem to work well. However, I am not sure if these drugs can be used in dogs.
The best thing we can do is to avoid getting bitten. Also, we can advance our society’s knowledge of the disease by sending any Kissing Bugs we find to the Kissing Bug research team at Texas A&M University. Do not handle the bug directly. Use a Ziploc bag turned inside out over your hand. Capture the bug, and zip it securely inside the bag. On the outside of the bag, or on a slip of paper, record the time, date and location (GPS coordinates are best) and whether the bug was alive or dead. If it was alive, note what it was doing when captured. To kill it (and preserve it), freeze the bagged bug for 24 hours.
The specimen should be sent to the research team at Texas A&M. It is best to e-mail the team at KissingBug@cvm.tamu.edu for the proper mailing procedure. Attach a photo of the bug along with your email, if at all possible.
The research team is working to determine where the Kissing Bugs are found in Texas and to see how many of them carry the parasite. This information will go a long ways towards helping manage for Chagas disease. I hope you will support this research.
Texas Master Naturalist and Columnist to the Bee-Picayune