|A blood-sucking conenose Triatomine bug also known as a “kissing” bug. Photo credit: UF/IFAS |
Deadly kissing bugs have been found in over half of the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Triatomine bugs (also called reduviid bugs, assassin bugs, cone-nosed bugs, and blood suckers) are primarily nocturnal and feed on the blood of mammals (including humans), birds, and reptiles which can result in the transmission of the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi that causes Chagas disease.
|States reported to have kissing bugs. Map credit: CDC |
The transmission of Chagas disease from the bug to a human can occur when it feeds near a sleeping person’s lips (which is why it is called the “kissing” bug). The parasite that causes the disease is in the bug feces. Because the kissing bug generally defecates on or near a person while it is feeding on his or her blood, the fecal material then gets rubbed into the bite wound or into the mouth, and the parasite enters the body.
Once transmission has taken place, most infected victims experience an acute illness phase with mild symptoms or nonspecific febrile illness that frequently goes unrecognized, according to the Florida Department of Health. After four to eight weeks or more, victims enter the chronic phase and parasites are generally not detected in the blood. Without treatment, they will remain infected for life. Some people will remain asymptomatic (indeterminate infection) but others (20-30%) will experience clinical symptoms including cardiac (heart) damage. This can range from mild changes on electrocardiogram to severe arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy, and sudden death.
According to the University of Florida Department of Entomology and Nematology, this blood-sucking conenose bed bug enters into a home by crawling through cracks in the foundation, torn window screens, or other structural inadequacies; many times they enter by simply clinging to a domestic pet or to the clothing of an unaware person. Once indoors, they are found in bedding, cracks in the floors and walls, or under furniture.
The CDC advises the following precautions to reduce the chance of a kissing bug entering your home:
Sealing cracks and gaps around windows, walls, roofs, and doors
Removing wood, brush, and rock piles near your house
Using screens on doors and windows and repairing any holes or tears
If possible, making sure yard lights are not close to your house (lights can attract the bugs)
Sealing holes and cracks leading to the attic, crawl spaces below the house, and to the outside
Having pets sleep indoors, especially at night
Keeping your house and any outdoor pet resting areas clean, in addition to periodically checking both areas for the presence of bugs