The Barbeiro Bug

There is no great mystery in the name of this bug since the translation for barbeiro means barber ; that may come from the stripes on its abdomen. Just think of the barber’s pole that used to stand outside some barber shops. During our first term in Brazil we heard about the barbeiro for it carried a parasitic disease that infected some of the poor in our area but now infects 18 millions in Central and South America. Deaths mount up to 14,000 per year.

The person infected by the barbeiro may have few systems for perhaps thirty years but then it will be known to have attacked different parts of the body—the heart, nervous system and colon. When our family lived in Neves I recall hearing that a man had dropped dead while playing soccer. He had an enlarged heart from the bite of the barbeiro that infected him with a parasite. In Brazil that disease is called Chagas since a Dr. Chagas defined it. This parasite lives in the intestine of the bug and is transmitted through its bite. However technically it is the bug’s secretions that enter through the wound the bug makes or perhaps other lesions.

I recall visiting in homes where the walls were made of bamboo and plastered with mud. Cracks developed as the mud dried and so provided a place for the barbeiro to hide during the day. Its bloodsucking was done at night when the occupants were asleep. The Chagas parasite may show itself in up to 30% of those infected. Chagas is a terrible disease. To suck blood the barbeiro pounces on exposed skin but prefers the face and especially around the lips for they would be uncovered. As a result this is how this bug earned its English name, The Kissing Bug. Tests for the Chagas disease are inadequate and the medications expensive and toxic. Treatments at times are not successful and Chagas may remain a chronic disease.

So how was it that neither Doris nor I along with our children never got Chagas? One reason is that we lived in a house made of bricks and plastered over so the bug did not have many entry or hiding places. In any case my visits to the poorer homes never meant that I would sleep there overnight. Looking back I don’t recall knowing much about the barbeiro or being concerned about it.

The second reason is one that I do not fully understand but it is this: God sends angels to provide protection. As I look back over life I recall so many situations that Doris would explain with, “The angels must have been working overtime.” That includes my teen years, our time in Brazil and Haiti, and without doubt all the time we have lived in Canada.

As I’ve written up this post other thoughts have worked its way into my mind. It is that the disease Chagas is so similar to shadows that have crowded into our lives. We all know about them. Life runs along fairly smoothly but “the chickens come home to roost” often in the form of shadows that deepen into storm clouds.

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