Michigan residents concerned about reports of dangerous 'kissing bug' moving north

Bug carries parasite in feces

DETROIT – Health officials said the dangerous "kissing bug" appears to be moving north, and that's not comforting news for people living in Michigan.

"I think it's freaky, weird and scary," a resident said.

That's the reaction most people have to the bug. The name comes from their tendency to bite humans on the face and lips, sometimes while they're sleeping.

The real danger isn't in the bite, though, but from a parasite it carries in its feces.

"When patients, they're sleepy, and they rub the skin where the insect has bitten them, they'll accidentally rub in the (feces) where the organism has bitten them into the wound, and then that's how you get Chagas disease," an expert said.

The results of Chagas disease can be devastating.

"Over a period of years, it can destroy the nerves that feed various parts of your body, so your heart, your esophagus, your colon," an expert said.

A map from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the states where cases have been reported, including Indiana and Ohio.

Officials with the American Heart Association said at least 300,000 people in the United States are affected by Chagas disease, but most contracted the illness while living in or traveling to Central or South America, where kissing bugs are common.

"It's the most common cause of rhythm disturbances, cardiac rhythm disturbances in South America," an expert said.

In places where the kissing bugs are moving in, pesticides can be used to keep them away. Experts also recommend sealing windows and keeping trash, as well as piles of wood and rocks, clear of homes.

Experts said it's unclear why the bugs appear to be spreading north. The only somewhat reassuring news is that kissing bugs native to North America are less likely to carry Chagas disease than those found in Central or South America.

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