You may have heard about the kissing bug that is making its way across southern regions of the U.S. Major news outlets such as TIME, CNN, and Forbes recently featured stories about this trending topic. Kissing bugs can carry the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which can cause Chagas disease. It’s important to know that not all kissing bugs are infected with the parasite, and the likelihood of contracting Chagas disease is low.
The Kissing bug received its name because it typically bites the face of humans around the lips and eyes. They are similar to bed bugs; they are primarily nocturnal, and feed on the blood of mammals, including dogs and people. Feedings typically occur while hosts are asleep, and a meal can last 20-30 minutes. Hosts are unaware they are being bitten, because kissing bugs inject an anesthetizing agent during feeding.
About Chagas disease
Chagas disease is not new, but until recently, it was more commonly found in Mexico, Central America and South America. The disease is transmitted through the kissing bug’s feces. While feeding, kissing bugs can defecate on their host. During this time, their fecal materials can get into the bite wound or into a mucous membrane of the host, which allows the parasite to enter the body.
Chagas disease can go undetected in an infected host for up to two decades. Signs of Chagas in a human include: fever, fatigue, body aches, loss of appetite, vomiting, and swelling on the face or eyelid, but there may be no signs at all. Similarly, signs of an infected dog are fever and sluggishness. In addition, symptoms of heart failure may appear after an extended amount of time. You can learn more about how Chagas disease affects dogs and other animals here. For more information about the disease, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Where the kissing bug has been seen
The kissing bug has existed in Texas since the early 1800s, but recently increased its presence and spread throughout southern regions of the U.S. that are experiencing warmer temperatures, allowing it to thrive. Click here to see a map of kissing bug occurrences by state in the U.S.
Kissing bugs are typically found outside the home in close proximity to a blood host. They can be found in:
If found inside the home, kissing bugs are often in:
How to identify kissing bugs
Kissing bugs are generally light brown to black, but some have red, yellow, or tan markings on their abdomen. Kissing bugs have six legs, antennae, are about ½ ”-1” long, and often resemble a more oval and elongated cockroach.
Photo: Gabriel L. Hamer
Three species of kissing bugs that can be found in Texas.
Left to right: Triatoma sanguisuga, Triatoma gerstaeckeri, Triatoma protracta
There are other insects that look similar to kissing bugs. If you think you have found a kissing bug, don’t fret, you can contact your local pest professional for identification.
You can help to prevent kissing bugs from entering your home by following these tips from our experts:
What to do if you find a kissing bug
If you find a kissing bug, the CDC recommends you do not touch or squash it. To help understand the problem and how many carry the disease, the CDC is asking for help. They suggest you place a container on top of the kissing bug for 24 hours, and then seal the bug inside the container. They are also asking people to transport any bugs they find to their local extension service, a university laboratory, or local health department so that the species can be identified and tested for Chagas disease can be conducted.
If you suspect you or your pet may have been bitten or has Chagas disease, you should contact your health care provider or veterinarian immediately.
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