Beware the bug that could kill you or your pets!

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) -- You're going to hear a lot about Zika and mosquitos as we head into the summer.  But there's another bug -- and disease -- that you also need to know about, and this one could kill you or your pets.

The disease is called Chagas.  The bugs are commonly called kissing bugs.  But they don't kiss you.  They suck your blood, like a tick or mosquito.  Longer than a mosquito but a shorter time period than a tick.

chagas1"But they also inflict almost no pain where they feed.  They've got an anesthetic  in their saliva that, even though they're a larger bug, you just don't feel it," says Tulane's Dr. Dawn Wesson.

Entomologists with Tulane University's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine are studying the kissing bugs and hope to help find a vaccine for Chagas one day.  If you're not creeped out enough now, wait until you read how you get the disease.

"They actually don't transmit by their bite.  They transmit in their feces.  To actually get infected, you have to basically rub the feces in your eye or where they've been feeding on you," Wesson says.

chagas3

Tulane's research team head into the rural spots surrounding the metro area at night to find the bugs.  They set up sheets and use lights to attract them.  They also distribute fliers to inform neighbors about the dangers.  One of those neighbors found three in her house.  For more on that, click on the video button above.

Researchers say that sometimes it takes a decade for people to shows symptoms that they've been infected.  Chagas causes heart problems and can lead to death in some cases.  In fact, dogs that die from the disease are sometimes believed to have succumbed to heartworm disease.

The best way to avoid allowing the bugs into your home is to make sure you have tight seals along doors and windows.

chagas2More information on Chagas can be found at this webpage from the Centers for Disease Control.

Also, there are a number of sources of information regarding Chagas and pets.  Click here to see the webpage from Texas A&M.

Researchers will tell you that Chagas is primarily a problem in Latin American countries.  But there are documented cases in the United States including some in Louisiana and one in New Orleans in 2006.