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Trypanosoma cruzi Infection: The Kissing (Bug) Disease

Clinician's Brief (Capsule)

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Trypanosoma cruzi is a protozoan parasite known to infect humans, wildlife, and dogs. Infection occurs when hematophagous triatomines (kissing bugs) bite hosts and bugs’ feces enter bite sites or mucous membranes. In humans, this causes Chagas disease. Symptoms of T cruzi infection in humans and dogs include acute myocarditis, chronic heart disease, and sudden death; infection can also be asymptomatic.

Study authors examined the seroprevalence of T cruzi in dogs from 7 Texas shelters. There are enzootic cycles involving infected wildlife reservoirs and domestic dogs across the southern United States; dogs in Texas are at high risk. A total of 205 blood samples were taken, and T cruzi exposure was determined using the Chagas STAT-PAK, a rapid immunochromatographic test. Of those, 18 dogs tested positive, which makes the overall seroprevalence 8.8%. For individual shelters, prevalence ranged 6.7%–13.8%.

Because of shelter dogs’ widespread exposure to T cruzi, these dogs could act as sentinels for assessing transmission risk; however, the importance of dogs as a reservoir host has not been studied in the United States. Further research is needed to evaluate the association between exposure of shelter dogs to T cruzi and the risk for Chagas disease in humans.


This study sought to detect the presence of anti-T cruzi antibodies in a population of shelter dogs from Texas. Blood samples were also examined for parasite DNA by 2 PCR methods. No significant differences in seropositivity were noted with regard to location, sex, age, breed, or adoption history. Shelter dogs are a useful population to examine the occurrence of T cruzi infection as an indication of potential risk to humans and owned dogs. Local exposure was likely in these cases as seropositivity was not biased by location or age of the animal, and some of the shelters were in regions where kissing bug vectors are well-established.—John J. Schaefer, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVM

This capsule is part of the One Health Initiative


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