At first, Lynn Kaufer Hodson thought she’d been bitten by a mosquito.
As Fox News reports, it was November 2016, and Hodson was staying in a trailer in Grass Valley, California, waiting to move to her new house. That’s when the 49-year-old mom got a bug bite on her neck that seemed to linger for weeks. At the time, she assumed it had come from a mosquito or spider.
She told Fox News, “It was super itchy for like two or three weeks,” and the bite marked throbbed. However, she decided against going to the doctor.
It wasn’t until January that Hodson learned that this was no ordinary insect bite.
Hodson regularly donated blood, but after her January donation, she received a warning from the American Red Cross. In a letter, she was informed that her blood indicated that she had been infected with Trypanosoma cruzi, a parasite that can trigger Chagas disease.
It turns out that Hodson hadn’t been bitten by a mosquito, but by a triatomine.Glenn Seplak/Flickr
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite is carried by triatomine bugs, a blood-sucking insect more commonly known as the “kissing bug.” Triatomines can be found indoors (if cracks and holes allow them to enter homes) and outdoors in brush, under porches, and near animal housing.
Not all triatomines are infected with the parasite that causes Chagas disease. The parasite lives in the bug’s feces and is only transferred to a human if the bug defecates while feeding and the feces is later rubbed into the bite wound.
The CDC reports that Chagas disease is most common in Latin America, where they estimate that as many as 8 million people have the disease, and many don’t know they’re infected. In the first weeks and months after infection, victims may not show many symptoms. What’s more, the symptoms that do occur (like fever, aches, and fatigue) can disappear over time.
In the long term, however, Chagas disease can be deadly. Though it may not manifest for decades, victims of Chagas can develop serious, life-threatening cardiac and intestinal complications, including cardiac arrest, an enlarged heart, altered heart rhythm, heart failure, and an enlarged colon or esophagus.
Informed that she might have Chagas disease, Hodson immediately went to get tested. Specialists confirmed that the mom was infected, but Hodson had to wait for treatment while the CDC prioritized medication for high-risk patients like pregnant women and AIDS patients. She told Fox News:
“They say if you get it treated right away research shows it’s effective. What’s right away? I had to wait five months, so how I looked at it was — I have it. It’s either going to affect me or it’s not.”
Now, Hodson is in a holding pattern. She sees a cardiologist for tests once a year and monitors her heart activity after the exam. But there’s not much more she can do other than wait and see. She told Fox:
“I’m a total Type A control freak, but this is so beyond anyone’s control. You can live your life stressed and worried about it or you can just live your life, Life is short. You hope you’re okay and you live your life.”
She also hopes that her story will help others learn more about Chagas disease, which is often called a “silent killer” because so many victims don’t know they have it.
Hodson blames “politics” for the lack of awareness about Chagas. As she told Fox News, “There is no urgency, no concern, no anything with this disease right now. Not many people have it; it’s not a sexy thing. You can’t see it,”