Tin House Books
Daisy Hernandez was a child in the early 1980s when her mother’s youngest sister, Dora, moved from her native Colombia to the United States for treatment for an illness that made her belly grow so large that people assumed she was is pregnant.
In Colombia, doctors cut Dora’s colon – they told her she had “enough for ten people” – and gave her a colostomy bag, but when she came to live with Hernandez’s family in New Jersey So he still needed several more abdominal surgeries. What was the family line that made Dora so sick? “He ate an apple.”
Hernandez didn’t learn until much later that her aunt’s disease was caused by triatomine worms, a parasitic spread through the bites of worms also known as kissing worms. Kissing bug disease, or Chagas, is endemic in Latin America, where blood-sucking insects come out at night to feast, leaving swollen bites near people’s lips. Dora’s infection may have actually been caused by eating a contaminated apple years before her digestive system had healed.
Hernandez’s book The Kissing Bug: A True Story of a Family, a Pest, and a Nation’s Neglect of a Deadly Disease The family weaves together memoir and investigative journalism to tackle the disease that eventually killed her aunt. Piecing together the story of his own family, the history of Chagas, and the illnesses of other patients, Hernandez raises serious questions about which infectious diseases deserve attention and which we consider to be worthy of care.
I had never heard of Bugs or Chagas kissing before I encountered Hernández’s book. Living in the Northeast, the only vector-borne disease I’ve ever worried about is Lyme. Unlike Lyme, Chagas kills more than 10,000 people a year. Cardiovascular problems occur as a result of this disease in about 20% to 30% of patients. Hernandez explains that the parasite can live in the body for decades, “quietly disrupting the heart’s electrical currents, eating away at the heart muscle, leaving behind pockets where healthy tissue once existed.” In the case of Dora, rarely, it eats the esophagus and colon. All of this is preventable if the infection is caught early and treated with the anti-parasitic benznidazole, but patients often develop debilitating symptoms years after the bite, when it is too late for such treatment. It’s over.
CDC an estimate That 300,000 people in America have Chaga. For the most part, they are immigrants from Latin America who were infected there. And that’s why most American doctors don’t know about Chagas or how to treat it, and why it’s classified as a neglected tropical disease—it mainly affects poor immigrants.
kiss bug Begins in memoir-mode, mostly told from Hernandez’s youthful perspective when she knew nothing about her aunt’s illness because it was only whispered. Starting with the personal, Hernandez allows readers to understand how a bug bite leaves a woman sick for most of her life.
Before her traits developed, Dora was an ambitious young woman who placed herself in college and taught elementary school. After settling in New Jersey, she taught Spanish, helped raise Hernandez and her sister, and found love. But the parasite was still alive in Dora’s body after the surgery, and it would later attack her esophagus. He died in 2010 at the age of 59, when his heart stopped during another medical procedure, a blow to the family despite his long illness. “To me, she was not the kind of woman who died,” Hernandez writes. “She was a woman who lived close to death.”
Hernandez’s strained relationship with his aunt, who refused to accept his strange identity, compounded his grief. When he started researching kissing bugs a few years after Dora died, he told himself that his interest had little to do with his aunt. but in writing kissing bug, hernandez A lull breaks out between she and Dora, discovering everything her aunt never knew about the disease that killed her.
Hernández is trained as a journalist, and she approaches the quest to learn about kissing insects with journalistic tenacity. She travels to Bogota, where she meets a professor who has been studying bugs since the 1970s. He spends an evening in a field in Texas, trapping kissing bugs – they also live in the US South, and the US native insects have infected some people. While carefully researched, this section of the book lags as we lose sight of the thread of how these insects, and the policy decisions surrounding this disease, affect patients.
kiss bug The final segment hits its stride, when Hernandez tells the stories of poor and uninsured Chagas patients who face obstacles in receiving proper care. We meet patients like Carlos, who was on his second pacemaker in his 40s, when he was finally diagnosed as he happened to a doctor in Boston who knew about the disease. His medical bills pile up, and the fact that his condition has made it difficult for him to work, haunts him. We also learn that living with Chagas is having a terrible effect on your child, as was the case with Janet in Maryland. She didn’t know she was infected until her son was born prematurely and his heart was already affected by the disease. He spent weeks in the NICU before doctors finally tested him for Chagas. Carlos and Janet are both immigrants from Latin America. Their stories highlight that our country has recognized that the ills of poor immigrants matter less.
kiss bug This comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has bare health inequalities in the United States and globally. In America, people of color have been disproportionately more likely To experience serious illness and death from COVID. Now, as our case and death numbers have decreased dramatically because of expanded vaccine access — nearly half The country has received at least one vaccine dose – South America and India Experiencing a jump. In both regions, vaccines have reached only a small segment of the population.
Ultimately, kiss bug Reminds us that our work to balance health inequalities cannot stop with controlling COVID at the household level. towards the end of the bookhandjob Hernandez writes of “The Great Epi Divide”, a term coined by physician Paul Farmer. “On one side of the epidemiological divide, Dr. Farmer argues that people will die from diseases related to old age, while on the other hand people will die much less because the medicine for curable diseases is too expensive.” For Hernandez, the great epi divide explains the choices the United States has made in public health funding – choices that keep infectious diseases like Chagas included within “another America.” But the great epi divide is “we can change if we want.”
Kristen Martin’s writing has also surfaced New York Times Magazine, The Believer, The Baffler, and elsewhere.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of knews.uk and knews.uk does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.