TUESDAY, March 20 (HealthDay News) -- Insects that are part of a family of bugs that transmit Chagas disease are well-established and feeding on human blood in certain regions of the United States, a new study finds.
What remains a mystery, however, is why the insects infect millions in Central and South America with Chagas disease, a serious condition that can lead to life-threatening digestive and heart problems, yet few such cases have been documented in the United States.
So far, researchers have documented only seven cases of Chagas in the United States.
"The basic message is that the bug is out there, it's feeding on humans, and it carries the parasite, so there may be greater potential for humans to have the disease in the United States than previously thought," Lori Stevens, a biologist at the University of Vermont, said in a university news release. "Very likely, with climate change they will shift further north and the range of some species will extend."
In the study, which was published online March 14 in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, researchers collected specimens from the Reduviid family of insects in Arizona and California.
About 38 percent of the black, wingless insects, also known as "kissing bugs" because they bite sleeping humans around the mouth, contained human blood. Researchers said this was an unexpected finding because the 11 species of kissing bugs found in the United States were not known to feed on people.
More than half of the insects contained Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease.
Researchers speculate that the prevalence of the disease could be greater than previously thought.
"We think the actual transmission is higher than the seven cases we have identified," study co-author Patricia Dorn, an expert on Chagas disease at Loyola University in New Orleans, said in the news release. "But even with these findings, we
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