Could Climate Change Increase the Risk of Charles Darwin’s Cryptic Killer?
Charles Darwin accomplished a lot in his 73 years on Earth especially when you consider that much of his life was plagued with illness. He once said that "[e]ven ill-health, though it has annihilated several years of my life, has saved me from the distractions of society and amusement."
His mysterious symptoms, which included nausea, general malaise, chest pain, and fever, went largely undiagnosed at the time, but today many question whether Darwin’s “silent killer” was actually Chagas Disease. Chagas Disease is a parasitic illness caused by kissing bugs, which get their name because they bite so close to the mouth of their often sleeping victims.
Kissing Bugs Heading North?
While the disease was thought to be incredibly rare in the US, recent studies show that rising temperatures could mean that the illness is spreading north. A story in Science Daily reported that Lori Stevens and her colleagues at the University of Vermont said that 38 percent kissing bugs that they collected in Arizona and California contained human blood. And 50 percent of the bugs collected also carried tryparosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease.
Eight to 10 million people, mostly in rural areas of Mexico, Central, and South America have the disease, making it the most infectious parasitic disease in the Americas.
"We know the bugs are already across the bottom two-thirds of the U.S., so the bugs are here, the parasites are here. Very likely with climate change they will shift further north and the range of some species will extend," she says.
It’s a tricky disease because it starts with a fever, swelling of one eye, and general malaise and then goes into remission for years. When the disease comes back it’s marked by constipation, digestive pain, pain in the abdomen, and swallowing difficulties. Eventually, it wreaks havoc on the digestive and cardiovascular system, as it’s thought to have done with Darwin.