HOUSTON -- The Texas Department of State Health Services has launched a study to see just how much of a deadly impact blood-sucking insects are having on people and dogs throughout the state.

Kissing bugs can spread Chagas disease. The disease attacks the heart and is common in Latin America where it s one of the leading causes of death.

It is now thought the bugs may have a bigger impact in the state than originally thought.

What happens is it affects their heart muscles. That causes a myocarditis, that s an inflammation of the heart and it causes dogs to have a weakness. They can have arrhythmias meaning that their heart rhythm is having times when they ll just faint, said Dr. L.D. Eckermann, a veterinarian at the Westbury Animal Hospital. There is treatment for Chagas disease, but it s not that effective and it has a very poor prognosis. It s actually has a very grave prognosis.

A spokesperson for the health department says recent reports of deaths connected to the disease are anecdotal because at this time, doctors are not required to report cases in animals or people to the Health Dept.

Some believe Chagas disease could be mistaken for a heart attack and never identified as the case of death.

Typically, a dog suffering from Chagas disease stops exercising, appear weaks or collapses.

Eckermann said pet owners shouldn t panic. There is no sign of an outbreak in Houston.

Right now it s believed the bugs are more common in the southern part of the state, but a spokesperson for the health department said it could be years before it completes its study to determine the rate of infection.

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