(NaturalNews) With Ebola now a back page news item, a new boogeyman pathogen is quickly taking center stage. So-called "kissing bug disease" is the latest mainstream media scare that reports claim is already inside the bodies of 300,000 Americans.
The strange condition, which is already being dubbed "the new AIDS," supposedly doesn't show symptoms initially. But once they emerge, the disease, also known as Chagas' disease, can quickly turn fatal much in the same way as AIDS.
The kissing bug is a potentially lethal parasite
The Daily Mail Online says kissing bug disease is technically a parasite, and many doctors aren't even aware that it exists. Researchers say it can be cured if detected early, but because of the nature of its symptoms, this is often difficult.
At a recent gathering of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in New Orleans, experts explained how Chagas is spread by kissing bugs. The parasite itself, known as Trypanosoma cruzi, is spread through the feces of bugs, and can lead to fever, fatigue, body aches, rashes, diarrhea and vomiting.
One of the more odd symptoms is a purplish swelling of one eyelid, as well as unusual skin lesions. If left to run their course, these and other harrowing symptoms can eventually turn into heart failure, which by that point is too late to cure.
"The disease can be fatal if not treated," says Melissa Nolan Garcia, an epidemiologist from the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, as quoted by the Daily Mail Online. "You are normally asymptomatic until disease has progressed, at which time treatment is not helpful. We call this the silent disease."
Existing drug treatments for kissing bug disease can cause nausea, weight loss, and nerve damage
Before ultimately killing its victims, the chronic phase of kissing bug disease typically includes organ enlargement, digestive problems, and heart failure. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists eyelid swelling, also known as "Romana's sign," as the most recognized marker of the disease.
"During the chronic phase, the infection may remain silent for decades or even for life," says the CDC. "The average lifetime risk of developing one or more of these complications is about 30%."
For their research into the disease, Garcia and her team followed 17 Houston-area residents who had become infected, as well as collected 40 kissing bugs from 11 central-southern Texas counties. They found that half of the bugs had fed on human blood, as well as blood from dozens of other animals ranging from canines to raccoons.
"We were astonished to not only find such a high rate of individuals testing positive for Chagas in their blood, but also high rates of heart disease that appear to be Chagas-related," added Garcia.
"The concerning thing is that the majority of the patients [I spoke to] are going to physicians, and the physicians are telling them, 'No, you don't have the disease,'" she went on to say.
At the present time, there are no officially approved treatments for Chagas' disease. Two drugs currently being used as experimental treatment, benznidazole and nifurtimox, have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and reports indicate that these drugs can cause nausea, weight loss, and nerve damage in patients.
"Until recently [kissing bug disease] was considered a problem only in Mexico, Central America and South America," explains The Washington Post (WP).
"Over the past few years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has seen cases across half the United States, but in most cases the victims were believed to have been infected abroad."