Chagas disease

TALLAHASEE, Fla. – State health officials acknowledge that they don’t know exactly how many cases of a potentially deadly disease are in Florida.

But they stress they still consider Chagas disease very rare and that most Floridians “don’t have anything to worry about.”

Chagas disease is spread by blood sucking insects that tend to hide in crevices and ceilings.

They usually strike at night and prefer biting people in the face.

“They’re called kissing bugs,” says Southwest Florida infectious disease specialist Dr. Amy Wecker.

“They actually have a parasite in their body and they actually defecate onto the person after they’ve bit them,” she says.

“And the parasite actually passes into the bloodstream because the stool from the bug contaminates the wound they just created from biting.”

Dr. Wecker says many people who’ve been bitten – up to 70% – can carry the parasite without every showing symptoms.

But for others, the condition can be devastating to their bodies.

“It seems like an inflammatory reaction due to this parasite,” says Southwest Florida cardiologist Dr. Brian Taschner.

Dr. Wecker says the esophagus can enlarge and malfunction.