You may be familiar with chocolate kisses and candy hearts on Valentine’s Day, but have you ever heard of “kissing bugs?” These insects, found throughout Latin America and parts of the United States, transmit Chagas disease, a parasitic infection that can lead to heart disease in both humans and animals. Chagas infects up to 10 million people worldwide and is a growing problem here in the U.S. It is estimated that 300,000 individuals here at home have Chagas and the disease costs the U.S. nearly $1 billion annually in lost productivity and health care costs. Some experts are also concerned about the growing number of animals with Chagas infections. A recent study showed that in Louisiana, up to 60% of dogs in some kennels have tested positive for Chagas. The Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio has reported Chagas in military working dogs, and several dogs overseas have actually had to return home because of symptoms from the disease, leaving the units they supported without explosive detection dogs. Clearly this is just one small part of the global story of Chagas as the disease costs thousands of lives and imposes a significant economic burden on all affected countries, most notably in Latin America. More research is necessary to better understand the true impact of Chagas in both animals and people and to develop more effective tools to combat this potentially deadly disease worldwide.
–Morgan McCloskey, global health intern