Kissing Bug Tested Positive for Dangerous Chagas Disease in Lubbock

LUBBOCK, TX - The City of Lubbock Health Department confirmed to Tuesday that a kissing bug found in Lubbock home has tested positive for Chagas disease. 

Now the Health Department is working with the Texas Department of State Health Services and Texas A&M to test dogs in Amarillo and Lubbock for the disease.

"This was the first time any of our Health Department staff had ever seen a positive test result from a kissing bug in our area," said Katherine Wells, Lubbock's Director of Public Health.  She explained that back in December a Lubbock citizen notified the Health Department that they had found a bug they believed to be a kissing bug.  The citizen first contacted Texas A&m Agrilife Extension  IPM agent and entomologist Katelyn Kesheimer.

Keshmeimer recalled that when the resident contacted her, he told her that he had guests in his home recently and while cleaning he spotted the bug. He squished the bug and when blood spurted out of it, he grew concerned. He brought the bug to Kesheimer for testing.

The bug was ultimately identified to be a kissing bug, and after weeks of testing, it tested positive for human blood and for Chagas disease.

According to the CDC, Chagas is caused by a parasite transmitted by insects. The disease can be both symptom free or life threatening. It can cause symptoms such as fever, fatigue, rashes, and swelling of the eyelids. While symptoms usually face on their own, they can sometimes become chronic, leading to an an enlarged heart or esophagus.

Dogs are also susceptible to the disease, explained Dr. James Alexander, Regional Veterinarian for the Zoonosis Control Program for the Texas Department of State Health Services. He explained that humans are unlikely to catch the disease from dogs unless blood from an infected dog gets near a human's open wound or mucus membrane.

"It can cause heart damage, heart failure, it can also cause esophageal damage, making swallowing of food difficult, as well as bowel damage, causing problems with bowel function," Dr. Alexander explained. "So we want to know if the organism is here so we can help educate the public, and since dogs are out in the wild where insects can be, we want to look at them."

Dr. Alexander is working with the Lubbock Health Department to run a study in both Lubbock and Amarillo.  They will test blood from 50 shelter dogs at both Lubbock and Amarillo shelters to test for the disease. Then the blood samples will be sent to Texas A&M to test for Chagas.

Dr. Alexander explained that many Texas dogs have been tested for Chagas, and according to Texas Department of State Health Services Statistics 8.8 percent of those have the disease. However, he said that there has never been a test for Chagas in Region 1 which encompasses the Panhandle and South Plains in Texas. He believes this study will be an important indicator as to how much of a risk Chagas poses in West Texas.

The risk of Chagas is believed to be very low in Lubbock. 

However, to keep dogs safe, Dr. James Alexander, a veterinarian with the Texas Department of State Health Services, said it is safer not to have them sleep outside at night.  If the dogs do sleep outside, remove any lights from near the dog’s kennel.

More details on this Chagas case and how it was found tonight on KAMC at 6 & 10. 

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