NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A Loyola professor discovered a new species of a “kissing bug,” known to transfer a deadly parasite to people and pets.
While most cases are found in Latin America, the bug is also found in the U.S.
Loyola professor Patricia Dorn has studied a life-threatening parasitic disease called Chagas for more than two decades, and recently discovered a new species during a research trip in Belize.
"These parasites from the Rio Frio cave in Belize carry the deadly parasite at really high numbers," Dorn said.
She also discovered the first cases here.
"My lab in collaboration with folks at Tulane identified the first human transmission through a kissing bug in New Orleans in 2006, but it's still very rare for people to get the parasite," Dorn said.
The kissing bug carries the parasite, and targets people and animals at night.
"This disease is actually transmitted by the feces of the bug, which is pretty nasty," LSU Professor James Diaz, who specializes in tropical infectious diseases said.
Diaz said they usually land on peoples' faces.
"Near your nose or near your eyes, and defecates on you, and you rub your eye, or you scratch your nose, you can actually be exposed to the parasite that way," Diaz said.
Diaz said most people infected with Chagas don't know they have it, but about 20 to 30 percent of people over decades can develop something more serious.
"The much more chronic form is Chagasic Heart Disease, which causes extreme enlargement of the heart, and it looks like heart failure," said Diaz, "the other form of Chagas disease is Gastrointestinal Chagas Disease, which is very rare."
The parasite can also be transmitted by blood transfusion.
"So they do screen for the blood transfusion to see if there is the blood contains some of the parasites," State Epidemiologist Dr. Raolt Ratard said.
While the insects do live in the U.S., Dorn said there are less than 100 cases documented cases.
“Some studies we did show that our bugs actually have better manners,” said Dorn, “the bugs actually take their blood meal, and they leave the animal and they go poop later.”