A blood-sucking kissing bug
In the midst of crammed slums in the Nicaraguan district of Matagalpa, aid workers are hunting house-to-house for hidden killers, their search guided by high-resolution satellite imagery supplied through an ESA-backed project.
Their targets are blood-sucking reduviid insects, generally known as ’kissing bugs’ because they emerge from their hiding places each night to bite human skin where it is thinnest – around the mouth and eyes. Growing up to five centimetres long, the kissing bugs are harmless by themselves, but carry a microscopic protozoan parasite that causes the wasting and eventually lethal Chagas disease. Secondary sources of infection can include ingesting contaminated food, mother to child transmission like during breast feeding and tainted blood transfusions.
Infection by this Trypanosoma cruzi parasite may cause short-term symptoms including fever, tiredness and brain swelling. However it is the longer-term symptoms that are most serious: ten to 15 years after initial infection the heart enlarges and grows weaker; internal organs are also affected. Sufferers must endure chronic tiredness and a higher chance of an early death – often from heart failure.
Mariangela D’Acunto | alfa
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