California mom bitten by ‘kissing bug’ warns others about danger of ‘silent killer’ parasitic disease

When Lynn Kaufer Hodson was bitten by a triatomine, also known as a “kissing bug,” she couldn’t even feel it. It wasn’t until a large, itchy lump appeared on her neck the next day that she realized some type of pest had sucked her blood.

Hodson had been staying with family in a camper on her ranch in Grass Valley, Calif., in November 2016 while she waited to move into her new home in Penn Valley — a town that was a roughly 30-minute drive away. 

At first, Hodson just believed a spider or mosquito had bitten her while she was staying in a fifth wheel camper. But weeks went by, and the bite mark continued to throb and itch.

“It was super itchy for like two or three weeks,” Hodson, 49, recalled to Fox News, though she admitted she initially decided against going to the doctor.

It wasn’t until two months later that Hodson learned — by accident — the type of deadly bug that had actually bitten her.

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A Panstrongylus megistus insect sits on a finger in the Argentine province of Corrientes in this picture taken September 16, 2008. This bug, commonly known as Vinchuca in many rural areas spreads Chagas, a disease that originated in Latin America, is endemic to Argentina and has killed some 50,000 people worldwide. Argentina has sharply reduced poverty since the 2001-2002 crisis, and the economy is in its sixth year of strong growth, but health workers say they do not have the resources for prevention of poverty-related diseases such as Chagas, rabies and yellow fever in the poor northern region of the country. Picture taken September 16.  REUTERS/German Pomar (ARGENTINA) - GM1E4A40F5301

This bug, commonly known as a triatomine, spreads Chagas, a disease that originated in Latin America.

 (REUTERS)

In January 2017, Hodson decided to donate blood, as she routinely did once a quarter. Weeks later, the wife and mother received a shocking letter in the mail from the American Red Cross that revealed there were signs she had been infected with the rare parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which triggers a dangerous illness called Chagas disease.

Hodson immediately underwent follow-up testing at the Center of Excellence for Chagas Disease at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, where doctors confirmed she had contracted Chagas.

The 49-year-old had to wait two months, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prioritized high risk patients such as pregnant women and those with AIDS, before she could get any medications to treat the infection.

“There is no urgency, no concern, no anything with this disease right now.”

– Lynn Kaufer Hodson

“They say if you get it treated right away research shows it’s effective,” Hodson said. “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.”

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At least 8 million people have been infected with Chagas disease in Central and South America and Mexico, according to the CDC‘s most recent report in December 2017. And an estimated 300,000 Americans in the U.S. also have the illness, a recent news release from the American Heart Association shows.

However, Hodson said the disease is called the “silent killer” because many people don’t show any symptoms. Therefore, she estimates the number of those infected to be even higher.

kissing bug

Lynn Kaufer Hodson, who turns 50 in November, said she sees a cardiologist once a year to monitor her heart activity.

 (Lynn Kaufer Hodson)

Kissing bugs spread the infection by biting a human, typically on their face (hence the nickname), and then defecating near the wound. The parasite can then get rubbed into the open wound or get into the body if someone touches their mouth or eyes afterward.

Chagas disease can cause life-threatening heart issues, including heart disease, strokes, arrhythmias and cardiac arrest. About one-third of those infected will develop chronic heart disease, according to the AHA.

“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,” Hodson said, explaining that she’s hoping to “put a face” to the disease so others will take it seriously.

“It comes down to politics,” she argued.

Hodson currently sees a cardiologist once a year for an echocardiogram and electrocardiogram. She also wears a Holter monitor for 48 hours after every check-up to monitor her heart activity. That’s all she says she can do at the moment.

“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,” Hodson said. “Life is short. You hope you’re okay and you live your life.”

Jennifer Earl is an SEO editor for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @jenearlyspeakin.

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