New Medical Research on Bed Bugs’ Transmission of Chagas Disease to Humans

Chagas disease is caused by a parasite (Trypanosoma cruzi or T. cruzi) known to be transmitted to humans by a blood-sucking insect known as the “kissing bug”. See https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/chagas/gen_info/detailed.html; https://www.who.int/chagas/disease/transmission/en/. Kissing bugs feed on human blood at night, often on sleeping person’s face, and defecate close to the bite. See WHO website. Its feces contain the T. cruzi parasite, which is transmitted to the person when he or she rubs the itchy bite or when the parasite comes in contact with the eyes, mouth, or any skin lesion. Id.

Prior research found that by feeding bed bugs with infected blood in a laboratory, the bed bugs can be infected with pathogens including the T. cruzi parasite responsible for Chagas disease. See Medical Research Links Bed Bug Bites to Hepatitis B, Chagas Disease, March 19, 2015. Like the kissing bug, bed bugs feed on the blood of sleeping humans, sometimes on the face. They typically defecate immediately upon feeding and often cause itchy bites. The prior research found that bed bugs have a high potential for transmitting Chagas disease through their feces when they defecate immediately after feeding on a human host. Id.

New Medical Research Provides More Evidence That Bed Bugs May Transmit Chagas Disease to Humans

A new study published online in January 2018 made two findings providing more evidence that bed bugs may transmit Chagas disease to humans. See Blakely, B., et al., “Survival and Transstadial Persistence of Trypanosoma cruzi in the bed bug (Hemiptera: Cimicidae)”, J. Med. Ent., tjx252, published online January 26, 2018, https://academic.oup.com/jme/article-abstract/55/3/742/4823562?redirectedFrom=fulltext. The researchers fed adult bed bugs and nymphs (immature bed bugs) with T. cruzi-infected blood. First, the researchers found that the T. cruzi stayed in the adult bed bugs for the entire 97 days that the study was conducted. Id. Those results showed that “bed bugs can acquire T. cruzi, maintain it, and potentially transfer it to humans via feces”. Id. Second, the researchers found that T.cruzi survives transstadially, that is, the parasite survives through the molting that nymphs undergo as they mature into adult bed bugs. Id. The researchers concluded that “[b]ecause bed bugs can live for at least a year [citation omitted], adults and nymphs infected with T. cruzi may be a source of infection to hosts for long periods”. Id.

These findings are concerning due to the resurgence of bed bugs in the United States and worldwide, and due to the potentially life-threatening effects of Chagas disease. While Chagas disease is mainly found in rural areas of Mexico and Central and South America, because of large-scale population movements, Chagas disease is now found in the United States and other parts of the world. See CDC website. According to the World Health Organization, Chagas disease is “a growing concern at the global level”. See WHO website.

Chagas disease has an acute phase and a chronic phase, and symptoms during either stage can range from nonexistent to life threatening. See CDC website. Symptoms of the acute stage may include fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, rash, enlarged liver or spleen, swollen glands, swelling where the parasite entered the body, and swelling of the eyelids on the side of the face near where the insect bit the person or dropped feces that were rubbed into the eye. In rare cases, young children die during the acute phase due to severe inflammation/infection of the heart or brain. Persons with weakened immune systems may experience more severe symptoms during the acute phase. Symptoms in the chronic phase may include enlarged heart, heart failure, altered heart rate or rhythm, cardiac arrest, enlarged esophagus or colon, or difficulties eating or passing stool. Id.

If your apartment has a bed bug infestation, or if you were bitten by bed bugs at a hotel, the attorneys of Whitney, LLP may be able to help you recover compensation for your injuries and losses.  To start discussing your legal options in a free and private case evaluation, call our bed bug lawyers at (410) 583-8000 today, or use our Quick Contact Form.

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