Every year millions of people in the developing world die from infections caused by infinitesimal invaders known as parasites, something we don’t worry too much about on American soil. But recently, thanks to increasing international travel, these worms have wiggled their way into our lives making us all vulnerable. The United States is fast becoming a fertile breeding ground for these silent, but sometimes, lethal organisms, which are found in water, on land, and in the air.
If you've been on a cruise or travelled to the southern United States and develop these symptoms, talk to your doctor. Most have not been trained in tropical diseases and you may need a blood or stool test to determine if you have been infected.
Invader Number 1: The Kissing Bug
What It Is
This little sucker gets his nickname from his habit of biting people on the lips – and that’s not even the gross part: afterward it defecates into the bite. Worse still, some of these rude dudes are infected with a parasite that can lead to a very serious disease in humans.
How You Can Get Sick
If the bug infects you with the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite, and it is not treated, you can develop chronic Chagas disease in which your heart muscle, esophagus, and colon can become inflamed and dilated, leading to heart failure and stroke. Though this is a rare occurrence in the United States, the incidence of Chagas disease is increasing. Infected bugs are found in the Southern US, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 300,000 people were infected with the parasite that causes it in 2009.
What to Look Out For
The early (or acute) phase of chronic disease often does not have symptoms, but the chronic phase may cause an irregular heartbeat, an enlarged heart, congestive heart failure, difficulty swallowing, and abdominal pain and constipation.