(NEWSER) – Some 8 million people have Chagas disease, a life-threatening illness passed to humans by "kissing bugs," or triatomines, living in Latin America.
In the U.S., few people know about the disease — but the CDC figures that some 300,000 people may be infected here. In countries like Bolivia, which has the highest rate of Chagas in the world, it's standard practice to screen expectant mothers for the disease, since they could pass it on to their children. But in the U.S., doctors rarely think to check for the illness.
But awareness is growing, especially in places like Virginia, which one doctor suggests could be "ground zero" for the illness in the U.S., the Atlantic reports. The state has more Bolivians than any other. Dozens of cases have cropped up in the region.
Infants and new cases can potentially be cured, but people with chronic cases may face eventual heart failure or brain inflammation. Most can go years without having symptoms, according to WTOP. About 11,000 people per year die of the disease, but its association with immigration and poverty may be preventing widespread awareness, activists say.