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Killer disease from the 'kissing bug' is making its way through Texas

Add this to the list of maladies that will keep you up at night: Chagas — also known as the "kissing bug" disease — is a parasitic infection that researchers say is easier to get in the United States than originally believed.

Chagas can be difficult to detect in its early stages, but if left untreated can cause cardiac and intestinal trouble, or even death. To add to the nightmare, it's spread by kissing bugs finding victims at night and sucking blood from their faces.

It was thought that most people in the U.S. who caught the disease were infected while traveling abroad — likely in Mexico, Central America, or South America. Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston followed 17 area residents who had Chagas, and found that at least six were most likely infected locally. Most of the patients lived in rural areas or spent a lot of time outside, and of the 40 kissing bugs collected in central-southern Texas, half had fed on human blood.

The researchers also studied blood donations between 2008 and 2012, and found 1 in every 6,500 samples tested positive for exposure to the parasite, a number 50 times higher than what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thought. Epidemiologist Melissa Nolan Garcia said she and her fellow Baylor researchers "were astonished to not only find such a high rate of individuals testing positive for Chagas in their blood, but also high rates of heart disease that appear to be Chagas-related."