There are plenty of arthropod pests in Massachusetts and other northeastern states that transmit diseases to humans. Multiple mosquito species transmit diseases such as eastern equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis and the West Nile virus in the state. Ticks are an even greater public health threat than mosquitoes in Massachusetts, as the deer tick infects thousands of people each year with the dreaded lyme disease, while Babesiosis, and Anaplasmosis are two other common tick-borne diseases in the state. Although not as common as these three tick-borne diseases, Tularemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Borrelia miyamotoi, and Powassan virus can also be contracted in the state. Unfortunately, another insect-borne disease has been found infecting residents of Massachusetts, chagas disease. While this disease is currently rare in Massachusetts, public health professionals state that chagas will become more common throughout the US in the coming years.
Chagas disease is a parasitic disease that was thought to be limited to Mexico, South and Central America, but lately it has become clear that more than 300,000 people in the US have contracted the disease, some of which were travel related, while others were locally transmitted. This disease is spread by an insect known as the kissing bug, which has a talent for gaining entrance into homes where they bite people, usually on the face and around the lips, giving them their common name. After this insect inflicts a bite, it proceeds to defecate near the wound. Itching these bites causes the insect’s feces to be spread into the bite wound, resulting in disease. The disease is often asymptomatic for a time, but can ultimately result in stroke, heart failure and even death. Unsurprisingly, those who have contracted this disease locally live in the southern states, such as Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Arizona, but Massachusetts is the odd one out as the only northern state where chagas disease has been found infecting residents. Researchers are currently surveying the population of disease-carrying kissing bugs in the country in order to better assess which areas of the country are at the greatest risk of infection.
Have you ever heard of chagas disease? Do you worry that this disease may become more prevalent in the northeast?