November 17, 2015 7:27 pm
Updated: November 18, 2015 12:40 am

SFU scientists study kissing bugs in effort to curb impact on humans

WATCH: Simon Fraser University researchers are part of an international team looking for ways to fight a blood-sucking insect known as the "kissing bug." Linda Aylesworth reports.


They are known as ‘kissing bugs’ and while these insects are not something we have seen in B.C., an international research team, including scientists from Simon Fraser University, are hoping to study the bug and curb its impact on humans.

The bugs, known as Rhodnius prolixus, are a major contributor to Chagas disease, which affects approximately 10 million people worldwide.

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“These are nocturnal, blood-sucking insects that feed on animals and people’s faces at night, while we’re sleeping,” said SFU biology professor Carl Lowenberger, one of the paper’s authors.

The feces of infected kissing bugs contain the Chagas-causing parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi. Once the bug bites someone’s face, the parasites in the feces enter the body through the puncture wounds, but they can also be transmitted through blood transfusion.

Scientists hope an understanding of how the bug possibly retains or eliminates the parasite, will lead to ways they can control or eliminate the disease.

More than 100 species of kissing bugs can transmit Chagas disease and the Centre for Disease Control estimates that 300,000 people are infected with the illness in the United States alone.

In Canada, estimates range from 5,000 to 10,000 infected people, most of whom are immigrants from Mexico, Central America and South America.

While initial  flu like symptoms disappear within a few months, the parasite reactivates after several decades in approximately 30 per cent of infected people. It tends to infect heart muscles, causing heart attacks. Most of it’s victims never knew they were infected.

Chagas disease is a major cause of mortality in Latin America and the leading cause of cardiac disease in South and Central America.


© 2015 Shaw Media

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