The Kissing Bug: A True Story of a Family, an Insect, and a Nation’s Neglect of a Deadly Disease

Tin House. Jun 2021. 336p. ISBN 9781951142520. $27.95. MED
In this latest work, Hernández (A Cup of Water Under My Bed) chronicles the history of the parasitic disease trypanosomiasis—also known as Chagas (after its 1909 discoverer), or the kissing bug disease—which quietly impacts as many as 300,000 people in the U.S. each year. Hernández centers the narrative on her family’s history with Chagas; she also weaves the personal stories of several people living with Chagas into her exploration of the disease’s history, pathology, treatment, and role in ideas of the health care system. The insect-borne disease can incubate for years, and can manifest as either cardiovascular or, less often, gastroenterological problems, leading to death. Chagas can be treated when it is recognized at an early stage, but the disease persists because U.S. practitioners are not widely aware of it, it is often difficult to diagnose, and it is prevalent among low-income and immigrant populations that are often neglected in the American health care system.
VERDICT Hernández presents a comprehensive picture of Chagas and its impact in the U.S.; she makes clear that this is far from the only instance of the medical system failing the patients in its care. Blending family and medical history, this account is especially relevant in an era of pandemics.
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