I know what you're thinking. "I totally don't have any bug diseases because bugs respect my personal space!" And that might be true...for now. But according to Scientific American, the tropical Chagas disease—a "silent killer" common in Central and South America—might be more common in North America than anyone thought. And so, following the time-honored formula "science + popular media = hysteria," I advise everyone to PANIC. PANIC IMMEDIATELY.
JK, you guys. You're probably not going to get Chagas. But if you do, it's not great.
Chagas is basically the most passive-aggressive disease ever. It sits around in your system, just chillaxin' Matthew McConaughey-style, for YEARS, acting like everything's cool—and then one day bam. Your heart explodes. Dead. Worldwide, Chagas kills about 20,000 people a year. Not cool, Chagas.
Chagas, aka American trypanosomiasis, is a cryptic foe. After a person becomes infected, early symptoms-fever, a swollen eye-may be mistaken for any number of other ailments. The disease earns its moniker, the "silent killer," from its tendency to lie dormant in a person's system for years, even decades, until striking the victim down, usually through sudden heart or digestive failure.
Worse yet, Chagas is transmitted in an almost comically disgusting way. Basically, what happens is, this jerk bug (known colloquially as "the kissing bug" and studied extensively by a person literally named Sir Vincent Wigglesworth*) bites you on your eye while it shits in your mouth. That's it. That's what happens.
After the lights go off, kissing bugs crawl into bed with the slumbering inhabitant and take a blood meal, often sucking around the victim's mouth or eyes. Unlike a mosquito, however, it is not the kissing bug's suction mouthparts that transmit disease-it is its feces that teem with T. cruzi. As the bug feeds it defecates; later the sleeping victim often scratches the bite, rubbing the feces into the open wound or into the eyes or mouth.
YUM. The article takes pains to point out that we're nowhere near any possibility of a Chagas epidemic in North America—the data simply indicates that more kissing bugs than previously thought are carrying Chagas and biting humans (ON THE MOUTH WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY POOPING IN IT), and that prevalence might increase in the future. So don't panic. Unless you want to. Because panicking is fun! Buuuuugs!!! Bugs in your mouth!!!!!
*British entomologist Sir Vincent "Brian" Wigglesworth didn't actually have anything to do with Chagas research. But what—am I just supposed to not mention him? The dude sounds like a cross between a Bond villain and a pile of broken monocles.
Photo credit: (C) lunamarina / Stockfresh.