Winner of the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award
National Book Foundation Science + Literature Selection
Finalist for New American Voices Award and Lammy Award for Bisexual Nonfiction
A TIME, NPR, Chicago Public Library, Science for the People, WYNC, WBUR Radio Boston, and The Stacks Podcast Best Book of the Year
Longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award
As heard on Fresh Air
Growing up in a New Jersey factory town in the 1980s, Daisy Hernández believed that her aunt had become deathly ill from eating an apple. No one in her family, in either the United States or Colombia, spoke of infectious diseases. Even into her thirties, she only knew that her aunt had died of Chagas, a rare and devastating illness that affects the heart and digestive system. But as Hernández dug deeper, she discovered that Chagas?or the kissing bug disease?is more prevalent in the United States than the Zika virus.
After her aunt’s death, Hernández began searching for answers. Crisscrossing the country, she interviewed patients, doctors, epidemiologists, and even veterinarians with the Department of Defense. She learned that in the United States more than three hundred thousand people in the Latinx community have Chagas, and that outside of Latin America, this is the only country with the native insects?the “kissing bugs”?that carry the Chagas parasite.
Through unsparing, gripping, and humane portraits, Hernández chronicles a story vast in scope and urgent in its implications, exposing how poverty, racism, and public policies have conspired to keep this disease hidden. A riveting and nuanced investigation into racial politics and for-profit healthcare in the United States, The Kissing Bug reveals the intimate history of a marginalized disease and connects us to the lives at the center of it all.
Hern ndez (A Cup of Water Under My Bed), a creative writing professor at Miami University of Ohio, blends family memoir, scientific inquiry, and journalistic expos in this poignant study of Chagas disease, an insect-borne tropical parasitic infection that can cause lifelong heart and intestinal problems if left untreated. After the death of her aunt Dora, who came to the U.S. from Colombia to seek treatment for her intestinal issues, Hern ndez poured her grief into exploring the history of Chagas disease. She lucidly describes the parasitological research that brought it to light in the early 20th century, and documents the chronic presence of insects, including the "kissing bugs" that spread the disease, in poor households in Latin America and the U.S. Profiles of other immigrant families who struggle to access adequate health care, and discussions of experiments on Black asylum patients in the 1940s and price-gouging by pharmaceutical executives add weight to Hern ndez's searing indictment of the U.S. medical system, which fails to routinely screen for the infection, despite knowing that it is widespread and that presymptomatic treatment is the only cure. This vivid, multidimensional account brings an ongoing medical injustice to light.