Veterinarian warns of the potentially deadly 'kissing bug'

Veterinarian warns of the potentially deadly 'kissing bug'

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - A potentially deadly bug is in Louisiana, and one veterinarian warns if your pet gets bit, it is not easy to fight.

"It's mostly just a matter of controlling the symptoms, treating for heart disease and it's it's bad," said Dr. Keith Ratcliff, owner of Ratcliff Animal Hospital in Shreveport.

It is known as the "kissing bug" and it is causing a lot of worry in southern states because it carries a potentially deadly parasite.

The kissing bug has been in the area for a while, and some of them can carry a parasite that can cause the disease Chagas, which can cause heart failure.

"That's the main way that we see the disease, is in an acute death situation," said Ratcliff.

While Dr. Ratcliff has read a lot about the "kissing bug" and the disease Chagas, he says he has never seen it.

"I may have seen it and not even known about it, that's the thing. I may have had an acute death that I attributed to just a heart failure that come to find out, had I looked might have actually seen the parasite in the blood stream," said Ratcliff.

The kissing bug carries the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes the Chagas disease. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the bugs are primarily nocturnal. They feed on the blood of mammals, including humans, birds and reptiles.

"The way that they transmit the trypanosoma is by biting a animal, or a person, typically around the mouth or eyes, and then they defecate into that bite. The actual parasite, the trypanosoma's are in the feces," said Ratcliff.

According to the CDC, it is rare. But the bugs can not only live indoors, in cracks and holes of homes that are not up to code, but also in several outdoor settings, including under cement, in rock, wood or brush piles, and in outdoor dog houses or kennels.

Texas is where a lot of the bugs are found, and they have also been found in Louisiana.

"It is a low level threat, but it still is a possibility," said Mike Owens, the branch manager for J&J Exterminating.

The uncertainty of it all has convinced Ratcliff that he is going to start looking for Chagas disease in pets that are brought to him.

"It's been recognized in 28 different states. So it's out there," said Ratcliff.

According to the Department of Health and Hospitals, there have been two cases of Chagas in humans in Louisiana. The first case was reported in 2006.

The first case reported in this state in a dog was reported in 2005.

It is unclear if any vaccination can repel the bug from biting.

Copyright 2015 KSLA. All rights reserved.