Although we often think of summer time as a pleasant, carefree experience full of exploration and travel, the season brings with it its own unique dangers as well.
For me, it has always been sunburn. No matter which old wives’ tale I adhere to about overcast days being the worst, or what have you, I always end up uncomfortably pinkish red by the end of the summer. As a kid, this meant being itchy and miserable for a week, but, as an adult, it carries with it all of the dangers of overexposure to the sun. Melanoma, skin cancer…the list goes on.
Then there’s the wildlife. Venomous snakes are far more active during the warm months, when we are coincidentally more likely to be in areas that snakes live. Scorpions, spiders, and all manner of stinging bugs prefer the heat as well.
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And don’t get me started on ticks and mosquitos, the latter of which kills more humans per year than any other animal on the planet.
I must now regrettably inform you about yet another six-legged threat to Americans: The Kissing Bug.
Insects known as triatomines, also known as “kissing bugs,” are starting to become more common in the U.S. — but don’t let their seemingly affectionate nickname fool you.
These blood-suckers spread a dangerous illness called Chagas disease. The disease, which has spread to the U.S., was previously only found in Central and South America and Mexico.
At least 8 million people have been infected in those areas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s most recent report in December 2017. And an estimated 300,000 Americans in the U.S. also have the disease, a recent news release from the American Heart Association states.The disease, triggered by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, is sometimes called the “silent killer” because many people don’t show any symptoms.
Kissing bugs spread the infection by biting a human, typically on their face (hence the nickname), and then defecating near the wound. The parasite can then get rubbed into the open wound or get into the body if someone touches their mouth or eyes afterward.
Even more worrisome is the fact that, across all eleven species of Kissing Bug that we’ve found in America, approximately 50% of the population carries the disease.
While nearly 70 percent of people infected don’t notice any symptoms, studies of past cases have noted they can include fever, lethargy, aches, rashes, swollen glands and a bump around the bite.
Doctors can detect the disease through a simple blood test. If the infection is caught early enough, medications should be able to treat it.
So, when the summertime blues hit you hard, get on down to the doc and make sure you’re okay.