LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - You may have heard about the "kissing bug." While its name sounds friendly, its bite can be dangerous.
"Kissing bugs do exist in Louisiana," said Dr. B.J. Foch, Department of Health and Hospitals Region 5 Office of Public Health's medical director.
While the bug is not new to the state, concerned residents reached out to KPLC, fearful of the potential harm the bug can cause to humans and pets.
Kissing bugs, or triatomine bugs, have a dark shell and are typically the size of a penny. They like to hide in dark, warm places and come out at night.
"Kissing bugs have existed as far north as the line drawn from the northern portion of California to the western states through the Midwestern states and all the way up to the state of Pennsylvania. They're a normal part of the animal life in Calcasieu parish," he said.
According to Foch, kissing bugs are only a threat if it carries a parasite which causes Chagas disease — a disease which has the potential to cause heart failure or digestive problems.
The disease basically occurs in two phases: an acute phase and a chronic phase.
"In the acute phase, it can consist of symptoms like flu-like illness. It could also have a swelling where the infection enters the skin or there could be no symptoms at all in the acute phase," Dr. Foch explained. "Then there's the chronic phase and basically this consists of heart problems. For example, heart failure or digestive problems. The chronic disease occurs only in about 10% of the cases and usually 10 to 20 years after the initial infection."
Kissing bugs cannot be born with the parasite which causes the disease.
"The kissing bugs get infected with the parasite by biting into an infected person or animal. Not all kissing bugs carry the parasites. So even if someone sees a kissing bug that doesn't necessarily mean they're infected with the parasite that causes Chagas disease," he said.
In fact, the majority of kissing bugs do not carry the parasite. When it comes to cases of bugs with Chagas disease in Southwest Louisiana or in the state, Foch said it's been a while since a case has been reported.
"There has been no domestically transported cases of Chagas disease in humans in the Region 5 parishes (Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis) at all. Also, while Chagas disease can be serious, the Louisiana Department of Public Health has received no reports of patients with the manifestations of Chagas disease in the last 10 years," he said.
For more information on the Chagas disease, click HERE.
For more information on kissing bugs, click HERE.