Chagas disease is caused by a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi. The parasites multiply within cells of the body. Infected cells burst, releasing parasites into the bloodstream.
While most cases of Chagas disease are in Central and South America, 11 different species of the bugs live in the Southern U.S. They may be found as far north as Pennsylvania in the East and Northern California in the West.
Inside houses, the most common places to find the bugs are near pet resting areas (a good reason not to sleep with your pets), in areas infested by rodents, and in or around beds (particularly under mattresses or bedside tables).
These bugs usually come out at night. They feed on the blood of humans and other mammals, birds, and reptiles. The bugs are attracted to the lips -- hence the nickname "kissing bug" -- although bites may occur on other parts of the body.
The bug bite itself doesn't spread Chagas parasites. But while feeding, bug droppings are left near the wound. When these droppings get into the wound or mucous membranes (as when a person touches the droppings and then rubs his or her eye), the parasites enter the body.
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