The Kissing Bug: A True Story of a Parasite and a Nation's Neglect of a Deadly Disease (Hardcover)

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Who does the United States take care of, and who does it leave behind? A riveting investigation of infectious disease, poverty, racism, and for-profit healthcare—and the harm caused by decades of silence.

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, and even into her thirties, she only knew that her aunt had died of a rare illness called Chagas. 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. Today, more than three hundred thousand Americans have Chagas.

Why do some infectious diseases make headlines and others fall by the wayside? After her aunt’s death, Hernández begins searching for answers about who our nation chooses to take care of and who we ignore. Crisscrossing the country, she interviews patients, epidemiologists, and even veterinarians with the Department of Defense. She learns that outside of Latin America, the United States is the only country with the native insects—the “kissing bugs”—that carry the Chagas parasite. She spends a night in southwest Texas hunting the dreaded bug with university researchers. She also gets to know patients, like a mother whose premature baby was born infected with the parasite, his heart already damaged. And she meets one cardiologist battling the disease in Los Angeles County with local volunteers. 

The Kissing Bug tells the story of how poverty, racism, and public policies have conspired to keep this disease hidden—and how the disease intersects with Hernández’s own identity as a niece, sister, and daughter; a queer woman; a writer and researcher; and a citizen of a country that is only beginning to address the harms caused by Chagas, and the dangers it poses. 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. 

About the Author

Daisy Hernández is a former reporter for The New York Times and has been writing about the intersections of race, immigration, class, and sexuality for almost two decades. She edited Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism and Colorlines, a newsmagazine on race and politics, and she has written for National Geographic, NPR’s All Things ConsideredCode SwitchThe Atlantic, Slate, and Guernica. She is the author of the award-winning memoir A Cup of Water Under My Bed, and is a professor at Miami University in Ohio.

Praise For…

With The Kissing Bug, Daisy Hernandez takes her place alongside great science writers like Rebecca Skloot and Mary Roach, immersing herself in the deeply personal subject of a deadly insect-borne disease that haunted her own family. It’s a tender and compelling personal saga, an incisive work of investigative journalism, and an absolutely essential perspective on global migration, poverty, and pandemics.

— Amy Stewart

Fascinating. . . . An engaging, eye-opening read.
— Kris Newby, author of Bitten

Daisy Hernández introduces us to the most important bug you’ve probably never heard of. Authoritative and gripping at the same time The Kissing Bug is a deft mix of family archeology, parasite detective story, and American reckoning. A much needed addition to the canon.

— Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, author of When We Do Harm: A Doctor Confronts Medical Error
Product Details
ISBN: 9781951142520
ISBN-10: 1951142527
Publisher: Tin House Books
Publication Date: June 1st, 2021