(CNN)A bloodsucking “kissing bug” bit a Delaware girl on the face last summer while she was watching television. Now, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling the incident the first confirmed identification of the bug in the state.
Triatoma sanguisuga, often called the “kissing bug” because it usually bites around the eyes and mouth, can transmit a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi. The parasite causes Chagas disease, which can have serious cardiac and gastrointestinal complications. Photos: Photos: Chagas disease is spread by the triatomine bug — nicknamed “kissing bugs” — which carries the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. Over time, the parasite can chew through cardiac muscle and cause heart failure causing an estimated 11,000 deaths globally each year.Hide Caption 1 of 8 Photos: In March 2015, a patient in Houston, Texas was diagnosed with Chagas disease — an infectious disease commonly found in the tropics of Latin America, where an estimated 8 million people are infected. Tropical diseases have been affecting people in the American South as long as humans have been living there.Hide Caption 2 of 8 Photos: In late 2013, Chikungunya virus was found for the first time in the Americas on islands in the Caribbean and has today spread across Latin America and entered the Southern US. Past outbreaks occurred in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Hide Caption 3 of 8 Photos: Since its arrival in the Western hemisphere the virus has spread across the Americas and infected more than 1.2 million people locally.Hide Caption 4 of 8 Photos: The Aedes mosquitoes spreading Chikungunya need shallow water surfaces to breed, which are plentiful in urban settings. Containers and other items enabling shallow water are being removed to reduce numbers of breeding sites.Hide Caption 5 of 8 Photos: Cysticercosis is the infection of muscle tissue with the larvae of the Taenia tapeworm. The most serious form of the disease, neurocysticercosis, affects tissues in the central nervous system. In the radiology image below, the cysts are identified as white lumps within the brain.Hide Caption 6 of 8 Photos: Neurocysticercosis infections are now occurring in the United States. The American South’s hot and humid climate, the influx of insects that carry diseases, and the ever-increasing movement of humans have combined with poverty to create a perfect storm of disease.Hide Caption 7 of 8 Photos: More than 500 million children worldwide are infected with “Neglected Tropcial Diseases”, including intestinal worms like hookworm, whipworm and roundworm — aided by poor sanitation and living conditions. Pictured, children receive the deworming medicine albendazole. Hookworm was once widespread in the United States in the low-income, mainly African-American counties around Montgomery, Alabama. Hide Caption 8 of 8When the girl was bitten, her family contacted the Delaware Division of Public Health and the Delaware Department of Agriculture for help in identifying the creature. They were concerned about possible disease transmission from the insect, according to a CDC report Thursday. “The girl who was bitten had no ill effects,” the report said, and although the bug’s presence was confirmed in Delaware at the time, there is no current evidence of Trypanosoma cruzi in the state.Yet the case raises new concern about how many additional kissing bug bites might occur this summer across the nation — and what that means for public health. Read MoreAlthough the risk of Trypanosoma cruzi transmitted by kissing bugs is minimal, most of the kissing bugs in the United States are potential disease vectors, and parasite transmission could increase because of climate change, according to a paper in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases in 2012.Could one discovery take on three deadly parasites? Chagas is endemic to Latin America, where a different species of the bug lives and can find its way into rural households.”They might have thatched roof or poorly insulated walls, and the bugs set up shop and feed on animals and people at home,” Sarah Hamer, now an associate professor of epidemiology at Texas A&M University’s Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical School, said in 2015.Yet the bugs exist here in the United States, too.Hamer said the kissing bug and Chagas have long been our neighbors: “The earliest reports are from the 1800s. The first parasites have been reported since the 1940s. We’re just diagnosing more disease. We’re paying attention to it now.”Get CNN Health's weekly newsletter
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The CDC estimates that there are 300,000 people living with Chagas in the United States, but most cases are contracted in other countries. Only a few cases of Chagas disease from contact with the bugs have been documented in this country, and kissing bugs have been reported in 28 states, mostly in the southern half of the nation, according to the CDC. The bugs in the United States are most likely to be found outside.To prevent infestation, the CDC recommends that you:Seal cracks and gaps around windows, walls, roofs and doorsRemove wood, brush and rock piles near your houseUse screens on doors and windows and repair any holes or tearsSeal holes and cracks leading to the attic, to crawl spaces below the house and to the outsideHave pets sleep indoors, especially at nightKeep your house and any outdoor pet resting areas clean, in addition to periodically checking both areas for the presence of bugsIf you suspect that you’ve found a kissing bug, the CDC says not to squash it. Instead, place it in a container and fill with rubbing alcohol or freeze in water, and take it to your local health department.