Kissing BugsBy Dr. Jim Fredericks
- National Pest Management Association
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Kissing bug. With such an innocuous name, it
may seem as if this bug should be the
official mascot of Valentine’s Day. However, the insect - named
for its habit of biting humans on and around the lips - is a pest
and is in no way a symbol of Cupid’s holiday. They are typically
found in the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, and
South America. Kissing bugs are capable of carrying a parasite that
disease, an illness that has afflicted millions of people in
South America. The disease is one the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified for “public health
action.” While cases have been extremely rare in the United States,
a recent study published in the CDC’s Emerging
Infectious Diseases journal found that nearly 40 percent of
kissing bugs collected in California and Arizona had recently fed
on human blood. Researchers said the findings were unexpected
because the 11 species of kissing bugs found in the United States
were not known to feed on people.
Kissing bugs, (Triatoma spp.) are true bugs in the
family Reduviidae, are approximately 25mm/1 inch long. While
there are a variety of species, they are all generally brown or
black with a red, yellow, or brown mark on their abdomen. They are
related to the South Americanbarbeiro, or conenose. These bugs feed
on blood at night, generally from small mammals and birds but as
noted above, sometimes humans as well. The nymphs require a
blood meal to support their growth and maturation. It is worth
noting, kissing bugs are not associated with bed bugs, a pest more
prominent of late for feeding on human hosts.
The insect’s feces can contain the protozoa Trypanosoma
cruzi which causes Chagas disease. Contact with infected
feces, through an open wound, or through the eyes or mouth, can
result in disease transmission. For most people who are bitten by a
kissing bug, the contact is not a memorable one. In fact, most
people who are bitten do not recall the bite and even fewer show
any type of reaction. Some, with particular skin
sensitivities or allergic reactions to the bug’s saliva, will
exhibit signs of itching, site swelling, etc.
Symptoms of Chagas disease include fever, fatigue, body aches,
headache, a rash where the parasite entered the body and swelling
around the eyelids. With treatment by a medical professional these
symptoms usually fade, but cardiac issues, intestinal problems, and
other more serious complications can sometimes develop.
The primary recommendation for preventing kissing bugs is
exclusion – that is, remove entry points from your home:
- Seal cracks and holes, both indoors and out.
- Replace weather-stripping and repair loose mortar around the
basement and windows.
- Ensure there is no gap underneath your door; if you can see
light from the exterior under a door, insects can fit through the
opening into your home.
- In addition, outdoors remove nesting areas and food sources for
nuisance wildlife that could serve as hosts for kissing bugs.
Debris piles should be regularly removed from your yard. Firewood
should be stored at least 20 feet from your house.
There are many closely related bugs that look similar to kissing
bugs. If you are concerned that you may have kissing bugs in or
around your home, contact a trained and
licensed pest professional who can inspect, and if necessary,
treat the problem. According to the CDC, the likelihood of
contracting Chagas disease in the United States is low, even if
bitten by an infected bug. However, if you fear that you may have
been bitten by a kissing bug and are concerned about disease
exposure, consult a medical professional.View Comments
Add Your Comments