Reward offered for ‘kissing bugs’ after feared Chinese outbreak of fatal tropical disease Chagas

Bites from insects resembling the bug prompt authorities to ask the public to report sightings, with US$1 offered for successful identifications

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 July, 2018, 4:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 July, 2018, 4:35pm

Health officials in southern China have appealed on social media for the public to look out for South American “kissing bugs” after a feared outbreak of the potentially fatal tropical disease Chagas, state media reported on Friday.

The Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, used WeChat to announce the possible outbreak and offer incentives to the public to report any sightings of the Triatominae insects that carry the disease, the report by Guangzhou Daily said.

It said citizens successfully identifying and reporting kissing bugs to the authorities were being offered 8 yuan (US$1.20) and free health consultations.

An outbreak was feared after people in several urban areas of Guangzhou reported being bitten by insects similar to the kissing bugs. The report did not confirm that they had been infected.

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The insects – also being referred to locally as “the king of fleas” – were described as about 25 millimetres long and oval-shaped, with red or yellow freckles on their dark-coloured abdomens.

Triatominae suck blood from human hosts by attaching to thin-skinned areas such as the lips or around the eyes, and infected insects can pass on the pathogen, Trypanosoma cruzi, that causes Chagas, also known as American trypanosomiasis.

It was not the first time alarms over Chagas had been raised in Guangdong, after reports of people being bitten by similar insects in the Shunde district of the city of Foshan in 2016.

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There is no vaccine for the disease, which can lie dormant in a human host for up to 20 to 30 years.

Patients with active infections of the disease show symptoms such as fever, swollen faces, inflammation of lymph nodes, anaemia, heart failure, enlargement of the oesophagus, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and sudden death.

The disease prevention centre advised anyone discovering the bugs to put them into water bottles or other containers with lids, and call the centre.

Most prevalent in South America, the disease infects 2 to 3 million people a year in Brazil, according to a 2012 report by PubMed, a US biomedical and life sciences archive.