01 September 2017

Treatment for 'kissing bug' approved

This chronic condition is caused by the transmission of infected faeces of blood-sucking bugs.

Ever heard of the 'kissing bug' or Chagas disease? This is a tropical disease that is often neglected, but known to cause thousands of deaths.

Luckily, benznidazole has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat the tropical parasitic infection Chagas, or "kissing bug" disease, in children aged 2 to 12.

Faeces of blood-sucking bugs

Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis) is caused by a parasite called Trypansosoma cruzi. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) about six to seven million people worldwide are infected, specifically in Latin America, with an estimated 300 000 infected people in the United States according to the FDA. 

According to a  Health24 article, this chronic debilitating condition is caused by the transmission of infected faeces of blood-sucking bugs. It can also be contracted through transfusion of infected blood, by organ transplantation or congenitally from an infected mother to her foetus.

Symptoms and diagnosis 

In most cases, symptoms are absent or mild, but can include fever, headache, enlarged lymph glands, muscle pain, difficulty breathing, swelling and abdominal or chest pain. In later years, the infection can lead to sudden death or heart failure, caused by progressive destruction of the heart muscle. 

Diagnosis of infection in pregnant women, their newborns and siblings is especially important. While this disease is not a risk or an immediate threat in South Africa, people should still be aware of this disease when travelling to affected (tropical) areas, especially when pregnant or travelling with young children. 

Serious heart problems

"The FDA is committed to making available safe and effective therapeutic options to treat tropical diseases," said Dr Edward Cox, director of the Office of Antimicrobial Products in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Chagas, also called American trypanosomiasis, may be spread through contact with insect faeces, during blood transfusion or from a mother to child during pregnancy, the FDA said in a news release. Left untreated, it can lead to serious heart problems, and affect swallowing and digestion.

In clinical testing, 55% to 60% of people treated with benznidazole had a negative antibody test for Chagas, the FDA said. The most common side effects of the medication included stomach pain, rash, weight loss, headache, nausea and vomiting. More serious risks could include skin reactions, nervous system problems and bone marrow issues. 

Image credit: iStock


Live healthier

Lifestyle »

E-cigarettes: Here are five things to know

E-cigarettes have become hugely popular in the past decade, but a rash of vaping-linked deaths and illnesses in the US is feeding caution about a product that's already banned in some places.

Allergy »

Ditch the itch: Researchers find new drug to fight hives

A new drug works by targeting an immune system antibody called immunoglobulin E, which is responsible for the allergic reaction that causes hives.