Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Chagas disease is a parasite and is spread by a parasite's feces. Chagas disease is caused by a parasite that is usually transmitted by triatomine insects.
A insect-spread disease more common in Central and South America sickened a Collin County dog.
Chagas disease, a parasitic disease, can cause heart failure in dogs.
Cora Fortin's 3-year-old dog, Kiska, was diagnosed with the disease after three blood tests.
“We’d never heard of Chagas,” she said.
Fortin and her husband knew their dog was in trouble when she fell over one night.
Kiska's heart rate was spiking and crashing, and her owners were told she had little time left without a pacemaker. The couple rushed Kiska to College Station, where veterinarians at Texas A&M performed the surgery.
Vets say Chagas is basically unheard of outside of Latin America and areas along the Mexican border.
“I’ve never seen a case,” said Dr. Vivian Carroll, of the Animal Medical Center of Plano.
She said it’s a condition that one studies in medical school but rarely sees in practice.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 300,000 people with the infection live in the United States. Most were infected in countries where the disease is endemic.
Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi and is often spread by triatomine bugs commonly known as "kissing bugs."
There are triatomine bugs are in the United States, but cases of Chagas disease spread by them are rare, according to the CDC.
Infected triatomine bugs defecate on a person or animal after they bite and ingest blood. The person or animal can become infected if the parasites in the feces enter the body through mucous membranes or breaks in the skin, according to the CDC.
Animals can also become infected after eating one of the bugs, and Fortin said Kiska is fond of chasing and eating bugs.
She said her backyard is the only place Kiska could have become infected.
Fortin said she worries that other canine deaths in North Texas, especially in older dogs, could have chalked up to heart disease or birth defects when the root cause is Chagas.
There is no cure for Chagas in dogs.
"It's pretty much a death sentence," Fortin said. "It could be 10 days. It could be 10 years."
But veterinarians say there is no epidemic and that pet owners should not panic.
“Now that we’re aware that it’s in the area, we’re going to keep an eye out for it,” Carroll said.
She said she is unaware of any kind of outbreak.
Chagas cannot be passed from dogs to humans. The disease is also not transmitted from person to person or through casual contact, according to the CDC.
In humans, the disease has an acute and chronic phase and is lifelong if untreated, according to the CDC. People with Chagas have a 30 percent chance of developing cardiac and/or intestinal complications.