MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - 300,000 Americans have been infected with the deadly Chagas disease and many don't even know it.
Chagas is a parasitic infection that's been called "The New AIDS." Insects that carry the disease originated in Central and South America, but they're now here in the South.
They're called "kissing bugs" because they like to take blood from around the mouth when a person is asleep. Doctors say the bite is painful and there's no vaccine against the deadly disease.
It is treatable, but if you don't notice the symptoms early you can have lifelong health problems.
Dr. Daniel Sprenger is an entomologist with the Shelby County Health Department. He doesn't believe there will be an outbreak in the Mid-South but wants people to know how dangerous one bite can be from these bugs.
"This doesn't sound very nice, but what happens is that when they begin to feed they defecate and then the person rubs the bite and it either gets into the mouth or they touch their eye and then they become defecated that way," he explained. "The danger of the disease is not in the initial stages of the infection. The danger comes from their primary, secondary, and tertiary effects."
Dr. Sprenger says if you're bitten your skin will swell, and you'll develop a rash, body aches, and have a loss of appetite. In extreme cases victims will develop enlarged hearts or intestines, which can fail or burst, causing sudden death.
If left untreated the parasite can eventually make its way to the heart where it can live and multiply. The disease is especially dangerous for kids.
The best way to get rid of the "kissing bugs" is to keep your house clean and use insecticides.
If you think you've been bitten, go see a doctor.