Chagas disease has spread from Mexico to Texas. This disease is caused by that parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, that is transmitted by kissing bugs. The parasite causes severe heart problems that can be fatal in humans and animals. The typical history is that an animal is behaving normally, then suddenly drops dead.
Here’s how the disease is spread. Kissing bugs emerge at night looking for an animal. These sophisticated little vampires can detect carbon dioxide produced during exhalation. They follow the CO2 trail to the mouth of the sleeping animal then bite often by the mouth leading to their name. After they ingest a full meal of blood, they defecate on the host and leave. Unlike mosquitos transmitting heart worms through their bites, kissing bus transmit T. cruzi through their feces. When the animal scratches the bite, the parasite left in the excrement gains access to the victim’s blood stream. Once inside, this protozoan parasite circulates around looking for a home in smooth muscle. They often choose the heart. Over time, the muscle of the heart is damage so badly, that death occurs.
Since there are no vaccines to prevent this disease and treatment is minimally effective, prevention is of paramount importance. All pets should be placed in a protected environment at night when the kissing bugs are active. Keep dogs and cats indoors if possible. Outdoor dogs should be confined to screened in kennel or barn. If a night activity is planned, apply an insect repellant to the animal. Remember to reapply frequently, especially if the dog’s coat becomes wet.
-Tompkins, Shannon. “Bugs’ ‘kiss’ a major threat to dogs.” Houston Chronicle, May 8, 2014.