It makes your skin crawla bug that crawls onto your lips while you sleep, drawn by the exhaled carbon dioxide, numbs your skin, bites, then gorges on your blood. And if that's not insult enough, it promptly defecates on the woundand passes on a potentially deadly disease.
Now Jean-Paul Paluzzi, a PhD candidate in biology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, believes that manipulating physiology to prevent the insects from leaving their messy calling card represents the best hope for stopping the transmission of the illness, known as Chagas' disease.
"This is a disease of the poor," says Paluzzi, who has visited parts of the world affected by the illness. "The bugs are found in makeshift homes with mud walls and palm tree-like ceilings. Unfortunately, the people of Central and South America that this affects don't have sufficient voice to get help. Given that there are roughly 15 to 19 million people that are infecteda substantial proportion of that area's populationit's a disease that's been neglected."
Chagas' disease is one of the major health problems in South and Central America and is spread by reduvid bugs, also known as "kissing bugs" because of their fondness for lips. The disease they transmit is caused by Trypanosoma cruzi, a parasite that lives in their gut. In the initial acute stage, symptoms are relatively mild, but as the disease progresses over several years, serious chronic symptoms can appear, such as heart disease and malformation of the intestines. Without treatment, it can be fatal. Currently, insecticide sprays are used to control insect populations, and anti-parasitic drugs are somewhat successful at treating acute infections. Once the disease is chronic, it cannot be cured.
To make matters worse, kissing bugs are particularly "bloodthirsty". In mosquitoes, which go through four distinct stages of development, only adult females feed on blood (and potentially transmit disease). This means tha
|Contact: Nicolle Wahl|
University of Toronto