The 'kissing bug' disease found in half of the country is deadlier than once thought

The kissing bug may sound romantic, but the heart-damaging insect packs a kiss deadlier than you could imagine.

The silent assassins earned their name from the fact that they bite around the lips and faces of people as they sleep. But these "kisses" can turn deadly.

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"Kissing bug"
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"Kissing bug"
The triatomine bug that spreads Chagas disease. Also called the kissing bug and assassin bug.
CB056990 (Royalty-Free) Bee Assassin Bug Image: ¿ Royalty-Free/Corbis Date Photographed: ca. 2000 Animals Flowers Nobody Photography Assassin bug Insect Petal Yellow Color photography Invertebrate

After piercing the skin, the bug defecates in the wound with fecal matter that hosts a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi. This eventually enters the bloodstream and causes trypanosomiasis, also dubbed Chagas disease and kissing bug disease.

The disease was generally considered by many to be mild -- even asymptomatic in some cases. But according to a new study published Thursday in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, the infection has claimed much more deaths than once believed, many of which are reportedly going unrecognized.

"In every age category, people who had Chagas died more than people who didn't have Chagas," Ligia Capuani, an infectious disease researcher at Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade de Sao Paulo, in Brazil, told CNN.

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But according to the Capuani, 40 percent of people who's bloodwork came back as positive for the disease did not have the infection listed on their death certificate.

"What the parasite does to the body takes a long time; (it) slowly goes into the heart and destroys it," Sabino said. "We have measured accurately the risk of death, (as) a lot of mortality data doesn't account for Chagas."

"Most people who get infected carry on with their lives ... unaware they were bitten," Sabino continued. "A lot of mortality data doesn't account for Chagas, so you underestimate the effect of the disease."

At present, there is no vaccine available for the disease. The best way to prevent infection is to protect yourself against that bugs spreading the parasite by applying insecticides and tending to open places in homes, as the insects are often found inside the walls or cracks in the roof in poorly constructed residences.

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