- Kissing Bugs
- Topic Overview
- Where to Look for Kissing Bugs
- Preventing a Kissing Bug Infestation
- Eliminating a Kissing Bug Infestation
- What Are Kissing Bugs? Everything You Need to Know
- 4 Natural Ways to Get Rid of Kissing Bugs at Home
- How to Get Rid of Kissing Bugs
- How to Identify a Kissing Bug
- What are kissing bugs and how much should you worry about them?
What are kissing bugs?
Kissing bugs are wingless insects that are about 0.75 in. (1.9 cm) long. Kissing bugs are dark brown or black with red or orange spots along the edge of their bodies. They are also called assassin bugs or cone-nosed bugs. Like mosquitoes, kissing bugs feed on blood from animals or people.
Kissing bugs have that name because their bites are often found around the mouth. They usually hide during the day and are active at night when they feed. They can go for weeks without feeding.
Kissing bugs can carry a parasite that causes Chagas disease, but this is not common in the United States. Itching from the bites can be so bad that some people will scratch enough to cause breaks in the skin that get infected easily. The bites can also cause a serious allergic reaction in some people.
Where can you find kissing bugs?
Kissing bugs are found in warm southern states of the U.S. and in Mexico, Central America, and South America.
Kissing bugs can hide in cracks and holes in beds, floors, walls, and furniture. They are most likely to be found:
- Near places where a pet, such as a dog or cat, spends time.
- In areas where mice or other rodents live.
- Near beds, especially under mattresses or on furniture close to the bed.
How do you know if you have kissing bugs?
Kissing bugs can cause patches of bites, often around the mouth. The bites are usually painless, but they may swell and look like hives. Itching from the bites may last a week.
Look also for these other signs:
- The bugs themselves, especially in your mattress or pillow.
- Tiny bloodstains on sheets and pillows.
How can you treat kissing bug bites?
Home treatment can help stop the itching and prevent an infection. You can:
- Wash the bites with soap to lower the chance of infection.
- Use calamine lotion or an anti-itch cream to stop the itching. You can also hold an oatmeal-soaked washcloth on the itchy area for 15 minutes. You can buy an oatmeal powder, such as Aveeno Colloidal Oatmeal, in drugstores. Or you can make your own oatmeal solution. Wrap 1 cup (0.2 L) of oatmeal in a cotton cloth, and boil it for a few minutes until it is soft.
- Use an ice pack to stop the swelling.
- See your doctor if you think the bite may be infected.
How do you get rid of kissing bugs?
Kissing bugs can be hard to get rid of. Bugs can hide in cracks and crevices in the mattress, bed frame, and box spring. They can spread into cracks and crevices in the room and lay their eggs. For these reasons, it is best to call a professional insect control company for treatment choices. The usual treatment is the use of an insecticide that kills the bugs. It is best to prevent bugs from getting into your house:
- Seal gaps around windows and doors. Fill in any holes or cracks in walls or screens that could let kissing bugs into your house.
- Let your pets sleep inside, especially at night. Keep pets from sleeping in a bedroom. Keep clean areas where your pet sleeps.
- Clean up any piles of wood or rocks that are up against your house.
Triatomine bugs, also known as kissing bugs, can carry the parasite that causes Chagas disease which can be fatal. Because of the threat to health that these insects cause, it is best to know their behaviors and how to prevent a kissing bug infestation.
Where to Look for Kissing Bugs
Kissing bugs are typically found in South America, Central America and Mexico as well as in the United States. They prefer to stay outside under porches, in wood piles, under rocks, in dog houses, in brush piles, and in chicken coops. They can also find their way into homes by coming in through open windows, flying through the door, and crawling through gaps around doors.
They are mainly nocturnal and prefer to hide during the day. At night they come out of hiding to feed. In homes they may be found in pet bedding, under mattresses, and in nightstands. If you notice redness, swelling, itchiness, and other signs of an allergic reaction, particularly around the eyes and mouth, you may be dealing with kissing bugs. If they are in your home, you need to get them out quickly, especially since they have been so closely linked to Chagas.
Preventing a Kissing Bug Infestation
Preventing an infestation is as simple as keeping them out of your home. You can do this by sealing all gaps and cracks around your doors, walls, windows, and roof. Also seal cracks and holes that lead to the crawl space below your house and the attic. If you have any brush, wood, or rock piles near your home, move them as far away from the structure as possible.
Install screens on your windows and doors and repair any tears or holes as quickly as possible. Since lights can attract the insects, try to situate any outdoor lighting so that it is not close to the structure. At night, bring your pets inside.
Keeping your house clean as well as keeping pet bedding clean will also help keep them at bay. It doesn’t hurt to check periodically for the insects though.
Eliminating a Kissing Bug Infestation
In Latin America experts have been able to keep home infestations controlled by using synthetic pyrethroid sprays. While there are similar chemicals available in the U.S. none have yet been scientifically proven to be effective in eliminating the insects. The CDC recommends hiring a professional kissing bug control company, especially if you plan on using any insecticides.
Photo: Kissing Bug (Triatoma sp.) by Glenn Seplak, used under CC BY 2.0/resized from original
What Are Kissing Bugs? Everything You Need to Know
Severe allergic reaction
Some people experience anaphylaxis after being bitten. This is a life-threatening allergic reaction that comes on suddenly. It can make it hard to breathe and lower blood pressure to dangerous levels. It requires immediate treatment.
Chagas disease is endemic to Mexico, Central America, and South America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to eight million people in these areas have the infection.
The CDC estimates over 300,000 people in the United States have the parasite. There are kissing bugs in the southern states but only rarely do these bugs transmit the parasite. Most people with Chagas disease in the United States were infected in the endemic areas.
Chagas disease is a severe complication of a kissing bug’s bite. It’s caused by being infected with a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi that lives in a kissing bug’s intestines and feces. Not all people bitten by kissing bugs get Chagas disease. This is because you only get the disease if infected feces from the parasite get into your body.
After the kissing bug bites and feeds on a person’s blood, kissing bugs defecate. An infection can occur if the feces enter the body through the mouth nose or eyes or any opening in the skin. This can happen if you scratch or touch the bite and accidentally transfer the feces. Feces can also get in through the bite. Scratching or rubbing the bite increases the chances of this happening.
The first few weeks of the infection are what’s known as the acute phase. Most people have no symptoms or only very mild flu-like symptoms. These can include fever, body aches, a rash, and swollen glands. The symptoms are a reaction to the high number of parasites circulating in the blood.
The symptoms improve without treatment as the number of parasites in the bloodstream decreases. This is the chronic phase. The parasite is still in the body, but most people don’t have any more symptoms.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 20 to 30 percent of people with Chagas disease experience symptoms 10 to 25 years later. The symptoms are severe and can be life-threatening. They can include:
- irregular heart rhythms that can lead to sudden death
- cardiomyopathy or an enlarged heart
- dilation of the esophagus (megaesophagus) and colon (megacolon).
If treated early, the chronic phase can be avoided. It’s important to seek treatment early if you think a kissing bug has bitten you because there’s no cure for Chagas disease once it becomes chronic.
4 Natural Ways to Get Rid of Kissing Bugs at Home
Kissing bugs should be dealt with quickly due to the risks of Chagas Disease. Here are four natural ways to deal with a kissing bug infestation at home.
How to Get Rid of Kissing Bugs
1. Set up an Indoor Bug Zapper
Kissing bugs are hard to get rid of as they hide themselves in dark sheltered spots during the day. Fortunately, they are attracted to light so an indoor bug zapper can help you get rid of kissing bugs at home with minimal effort.
Place the bug zapper near areas where kissing bugs are likely to frequent such as bookcases and cupboards. Kissing bugs may also be found close to areas where your pets like to hang out. It may take a couple of tries before you find the sweet spot.
2. Clean up Wood & Rock Piles
Wood and rock piles make great shelters for kissing bugs. Look around your backyard and clean up any piles of wood or rocks that are up against your home. The same goes for brush piles.
3. Sprinkle Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth
The effects aren’t immediate but food-grade diatomaceous earth may help you get rid of kissing bugs. Sprinkle the white powder along areas where the kissing bugs are likely to hide. The food-grade version of this natural powder is safe for pets and children.
4. Seal up Windows & Doors
Prevention is the most effective way of handling any pest infestation. Check your doors, windows, and walls for any gaps that the bugs may enter from. Materials like weather-stripping are inexpensive and effective at covering gaps along doors and windows.
How to Identify a Kissing Bug
Kissing bugs can be easily confused with other common household pests like stink bugs and wheel bugs. Here are a few kissing bug characteristics to look out for.
The species of kissing bugs that are found in the US are primarily dark brown or black in color. They may have red, orange, or yellow stripes around the edge of the body.
Kissing bugs have stick-like heads with thin antennas and thin legs. Their body size can range from 1/2 inch to just over 1 1/4 inches (size of a penny).
Kissing bugs get their name because they prefer to bite humans along the face, such as near the eyes and mouth. The bites are either unnoticeable or may show a tiny bit of swelling.
Other Pest Control Guides
- How To Get Rid Of Ants
- Mosquito Repellent For Dogs
- How To Get Rid Of Weevils
Sam Choan is the Founder of Organic Lesson. He started this site to share tips on using natural remedies at home when such options are available.
Also referred to as assassin bugs, these blood-sucking insects are a troublesome lot wherever they decide to reside. However, eliminating these bugs is not as difficult as it seems. The following HomeQuicks article discusses how to get rid of kissing bugs.
Did You Know?
These insects, that are around 1 to 3 cm long, are christened as kissing bugs since they tend to bite their sleeping victims near the mouth.
When kissing bugs are camping in your house, it is very difficult to get some quality sleep. Thanks to their blood-sucking ability, they are sure to create a nuisance and give a harrowing night to their hosts. Moreover their feces carry Trypanosoma cruzi, a protozoan known to cause Chagas disease―a condition that is typically marked by swelling at the site of bite, rash, fever, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes. Considering the health risks linked to their association with homes, getting rid of these kissing bugs at the earliest should be your top priority.
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Eliminating Kissing Bugs
Vacuum the Area
Thoroughly vacuuming your home can contribute immensely in getting rid of kissing bugs. You need to vacuum all the possible areas that include mattresses, pillows, carpets, floors, drawers, bed frames and other furniture items. When vacuuming, do make it a point to get rid of rat nests (if any) that are known to attract these bugs. Keeping the surrounding clean can certainly discourage these pets from infesting your home. So make sure your house is clutter-free to keep these insects out of your sight.
Mop the Floor
Household bleach can prove lethal for kissing bugs. Hence, mopping your floor with bleach-water solution can also help to exterminate these bugs. However, if you are not comfortable using household bleach, go for a steam mop to eliminate these pests. You can also steam clean all the surfaces and cracks. Steam cleaning devices generate heat, which these insects find difficult to withstand.
Use the Right Product
Well, using the right insecticide or bug spray can go a long way in keeping these bugs out of your house. Look for products that do not emanate a strong odor but at the same time are effective in destroying the pests. Products like Phantom Aerosal spray are practically odorless, and moreover, work against these notoriously difficult pest. A pyrethroid insecticide spray can be deadly against these bugs.
Using home insect foggers, also referred to as bug bombs or fleas bombs that contain active ingredients like tralomethrin or pyrethrins, may also contribute in eradicating these insects. Whichever product you choose, make sure the windows are all open and also ensure that you spray all the infested areas of your house including cracks and crevices.
Pyrethrin, which is similar to pyrethroid, is a powerful natural insecticide. It has been used all over the world to control infestation of a variety of insects including kissing bugs. However, when used in lower concentrations, pyrethrin has shown insect repellent properties. So you can use it in small amounts to get rid of these bugs. Generally, an insecticide formulation containing 2% concentration of pyrethrin demonstrates effective repellent activity.
Even after getting rid of kissing bugs, your house may get re-infested with these insects, if you do not implement the following preventive steps:
- Firstly, it is necessary to prevent these bug from re-entering your home. For this, use sealants such as caulk and foam to close (seal) all the cracks and gaps in your home. So check all the nooks and crannies in your house and make sure they are sealed completely. When done properly, it can be extremely difficult for these bugs to take refuge in your home.
- Installing insect screens is yet another way to protect your house from a kissing bug infestation. Insect screen protection that includes window screen and door screen can immensely contribute in preventing those bugs from crawling into your home.
- Like your house, you also need to keep your backyard clean. Get rid of dead leaves or other garden debris as any clutter in your yard can prove to be a haven for bugs and insects. In short, ensure that garbage or trash is disposed off on a daily basis. Also, if you have a lawn, make sure it is trimmed on a regular basis so that these insects do not hide in overgrown grass.
- Hanging a mosquito net over your sleeping area can also prevent these insects from biting you, thereby ensuring a sound and a bug-free sleep.
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On the whole, calling an exterminator may not be necessary if you follow these remedies to the T. However, in case these pest control treatment options do not work, seek professional help.
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Getting bit by anything is a shock. Sometimes it leads to an itchy bump, and other times it leads to much more serious health issues. In the case of the “kissing bug,” it could be the latter.
Kissing bugs have been found throughout the continental U.S. since 1899. To date, there are 11 different species of the bugs have been identified in 28 states. The revelations of their dangers have sparked concern. Here’s what you need to know.
We dare you to read these 15 pest control horror stories. They’re bound to make your skin crawl!
What is a Kissing Bug?
Nicknamed the “kissing bug” because they tend to bite people on the face, especially near the mouth and eyes, bloodsucking triatomine bugs hide in walls and roofs during the day, and emerge at night. If a person is bitten by a triatomine bug, in addition to general discomfort, the concern is that these bugs can carry Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease. People can also get infected by consuming uncooked food contaminated with feces from infected kissing bugs, or through blood transfusions, organ transplants and accidental exposure in a laboratory. Furthermore, if a pregnant mother is infected, she can pass the infection along to her baby.
Here are 11 ways to battle house pests yourself.
What is Chagas Disease?
Also referred to as American trypanosomiasis, Chagas disease is an inflammatory, infectious disease caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which can be present in kissing bugs. It’s common in South America, Central America and Mexico. According to the Mayo Clinic, if Chagas disease is left untreated, it can cause serious heart and digestive problems.
Here’s how to get rid of annoying ants.
Where are Kissing Bugs Found?
According to the CDC, they “can live indoors, in cracks and holes of substandard housing, or in a variety of outdoor settings including the following:
- Beneath porches
- Between rocky structures
- Under cement
- In rock, wood, brush piles, or beneath bark
- In rodent nests or animal burrows
- In outdoor dog houses or kennels
- In chicken coops or houses.”
They’re most prominent in the southern United States, Mexico, Central America and South America (as far south as southern Argentina).
Yuck! Here’s how many insects you’re eating every year.
What Does a Kissing Bug Look Like?
Adult kissing bugs measure between 3/4 and 1-1/4 inches in length and can be identified typically by a band around the edge of the body that’s striped with orange or red markings. They have long, thin legs, while their mouths look like large, black extensions of their heads, which also gives them the nickname “cone-nose bug.”
Keep kissing bugs away by sealing gaps around windows and doors. Also, be sure to fill any holes or cracks in walls or screens. You may also want to consider letting your pets sleep inside at night. Cleaning up piles of wood or rocks against your house is also suggested.
What Does a Kissing Bug Bite Feel Like?
A kissing bug bite will likely not feel like much, and since they are only out at night, you’ll probably be asleep when you’re bitten. “Most individuals report that kissing bug bites do not hurt,” notes AAA Pest Control.
What to Do If You’ve Been Bit
Because of the seriousness of a bite, which has been reported to cause heart failure, stroke, irregular heart beat or sudden death, you should seek medical attention immediately. Reactions may vary, from unnoticeable to anaphylactic shock.
Kissing bugs can carry the parasite that causes Chagas disease, and they are now making their way through the US.
Meet the kissing bug; the contrary insect with a charming moniker and deadly habits. While its name may bring to mind ladybugs or other cute critters, the kissing bug is actually a nocturnal bloodsucker that comes with an inflammatory infectious disease. Good times.
Also known as triatomine bugs, kissing bugs can carry Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease. Once found only in Latin America, this creepy crawler has worked its way north to the U.S., where it can now be found in dozens of states. The CDC says that an estimated 8 million people living in Mexico, Central America, and South America have Chagas disease, most of whom do not know they are infected. If untreated, infection is lifelong and can be life threatening.
The first (acute) phase can last for a few weeks to a few months and often shows no symptoms, but may also present with fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting. In the chronic phase, which can last for decades or forever, approximately 20 to 30 percent of infected people develop cardiac complications and/or gastrointestinal complications.
Called the kissing bug for its propensity to bite the face, the bug doesn’t directly deliver T. cruzi to the host. The pathogen lives in the bug’s feces; to infect a person, it finds its way into the bite, another area of broken skin, or through a mucous membrane.
And while all of this is rather disturbing, the CDC points out that the transmission of the T. cruzi parasite from a bug to a human is not easy:
It is important to note that not all triatomine bugs are infected with the parasite that causes Chagas disease. The likelihood of getting T cruzi infection from a triatomine bug in the United States is low, even if the bug is infected.
That said, babies, people with compromised immune systems, and pets are all especially vulnerable. So if you live in a state in which kissing bugs have been confirmed, you can take these CDC precautions to keep them at bay and avoid being bitten.
KNOW WHERE THEY LIVE
- Beneath porches
- Between rocky structures
- Under concrete
- In rock, wood, brush piles, or beneath bark
- In rodent nests or animal burrows
- In outdoor dog houses or kennels
- In chicken coops or houses
When the bugs are found inside, they are likely to be in one of the following settings:
- Near the places your pets sleep
- In areas of rodent infestation
- In and around beds and bedrooms, especially under or near mattresses or night stands
HOW TO PREVENT INFESTATION
An important precaution to avoid being bitten is to make sure they can’t get in your home in the first place. Since they bite at night, in bed will be the most likely place a person will be bitten.
- Seal cracks and gaps around windows, walls, roofs, and doors.
- Remove wood, brush, and rock piles near your house.
- Use screens on doors and windows and repairing any holes or tears.
- If possible, make sure yard lights are not close to your house (lights can attract the bugs).
- Seal holes and cracks leading to the attic, crawl spaces below the house, and to the outside.
- Have pets sleep indoors, especially at night.
- Keep your house and any outdoor pet resting areas clean, in addition to periodically checking both areas for the presence of bugs.
For more information (and the sources used for this story), see the CDC pages: Chagas Disease, Triatomine Bug.
What are kissing bugs and how much should you worry about them?
Kissing bugs are one of the latest creatures to cause a scare in the United States. They are bloodsucking insects with the scientific name triatomines. Kissing bugs are called many different names in the U.S.: chinches, cone-nose bugs, walapai tiger and Mexican bed bugs. In Latin American countries they are a feared pest known as besucona, chipo, barberio (Portguese) and vinchuca (Spanish).
For Americans worried about the threat, want the bottom line right off the bat? The next paragraph sums up our OPINION at Home Grown Fun:
If you live in a climate that does not get a hard frost each year and you keep your dog outside in a kennel, in the country, with lights shining nearby at night, and you have rats nests nearby and other rodent/animal hangouts plus garbage and other hiding places around your property, you may be exposing your pet to the kissing bug. If you live in similar conditions and do not clean up debris around and inside your house, and have lots of cracks and crevices in your foundation, doors and windows that could allow creatures to slip inside and hide, you may be opening up your home and health to the kissing bug. The kissing bug does not equal Chagas disease. Certain conditions need to be present for the parasite to be transferred.
Please read the information compiled below to get a complete picture, and remember, the bug does not inject disease causing substances into a pet or human by biting. The feces of the insect carries the potentially dangerous parasite. The feces must enter the host through a bite opening or another exposed area.
Kissing bugs are night feeders and suck the blood of animals, both vertebrates and invertebrates. They are most active in the summer but start appearing in late spring and stay around until fall temperatures turn cold. They DO bite humans and dogs. But how that happens is important for you to understand to keep from becoming frightened unnecessarily. Do not invest in a a bed net just yet.
We’ve seen too much hype and too many false reports on Facebook! Read these 25 important tips about kissing bugs and Chagas disease to get more educated about the insect and the potential risks to you, your family and your pets. Bottom line? Keep your property picked up and learn how to properly identify a kissing bug.
- WHERE ARE KISSING BUGS FOUND? Kissing bugs are a known threat in 21 countries in the Americas, from Mexico to Argentina. Until now, authorities in the United States have not kept reliable statistics on illnesses and human or canine deaths caused by Chagas disease. While actual incidences are a mystery, we do know that the number of positively identified kissing bugs in the United States is increasing and causing government agencies and the public to take notice.
2. WHAT DO KISSING BUGS LOOK LIKE? Kissing bugs are usually dark in color with black, elongated heads. The heads are shaped like an ice cream cone. There are eleven species, each with their own characteristics. This fact makes it tough for us to spot one immediately without help. Some have a yellow, orange or red striped band around their bodies. Sometimes the colored band is solid. It might seem impossible then to identify them if they vary so much in color, size and markings. To be safe, pay close attention to any insects you see in the home or those found in dog beds. Kissing bugs will not be prevalent in the garden because they do not feed on leaves and are not predators of other bugs. Kissing bugs seek out the scent of mammal blood and fluids. IT IS MISLEADING TO SAY THAT THE ASSASSIN BUG FOUND IN THE GARDEN IS A KISSING BUG. SEE #14 BELOW FOR MORE EXPLANATION ON THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE BENEFICIAL ASSASSINS AND THIS POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS INSECT.
Adults have wings. Immature kissing bugs do not have wings. The size of a kissing bug ranges from ¾ of an inch or 1 ¼ inch depending on the species and stage of development. The female insect lays white-colored eggs that hatch into larvae. During growth kissing bugs molt several times and then finally get their wings. They require a blood meal to molt and reproduce. They have a relatively long life for an insect: 1-2 years! See the image below as well as different sizes and stages of the kissing bug at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. (Opens in a new window.)
3. WHERE ARE KISSING BUGS IN THE UNITED STATES? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that kissing bugs have been identified in at least 26 Southern U.S. states. West Virginia and New Jersey may be added to the list soon. The only states that have yet to positively report a single kissing bug are: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Oregon and Idaho. As you can surmise, cooler regions tend to be “kissing bug free” – for now. Different species of kissing bugs are more common in different parts of the United States. The most common species for various areas:
Arizona and California: Triatoma rubida and T. protracta with T. rubida more common in Southern Arizona.
Texas and New Mexico: T.gerstaeckeri.
4. DO KISSING BUGS TRANSMIT DISEASE TO HUMANS? Yes. But not every time they bite. Kissing bugs are the only insect known to transmit a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi. Although not all kissing bugs carry the parasite, studies from Texas A&M University show over 50% do. This parasite can cause Chagas disease in humans, a chronic ailment that can live inside the body for years without being detected, often inflicting irreversible damage to the heart, digestive system, and nervous system. Initial evidence of Chagas Disease in its acute stage might range from no sign at all, to swelling at the bite site, to flu-like symptoms. The Illinois Department of Health reports that around 8 million people worldwide are ill from Chagas Disease.
5. HOW DOES THE BUG PASS ON THE PARASITE? The kissing bug’s piercing mouthpart does not directly transmit the parasite when the victim is bitten. The parasite is transmitted when the kissing bug’s feces and expelled liquids enter the bloodstream through the bite wound, a break in the skin or through mucous membranes. The parasite can also be shared when humans and other animals ingest food or other items contaminated with the feces of the kissing bug. Sadly, blood transfusions and also organ transplants pose a risk. U.S. Citizens Take Note: NO cases of Chagas disease have been reported in the United States as a result of blood transfusions or transplants.
6. DO KISSING BUGS TRANSMIT CHAGAS DISEASE TO PETS? Yes. Sometimes. Kissing bugs are bloodsuckers and seek out mammals including dogs. Dogs eat bugs and will snatch up kissing bugs. The parasite inside the digestive tract of the insect can transfer to the dog. Dogs can be bitten too. If the feces of the kissing bug enters through the wound, the dog may become infected. Remember that the insect needs to carry the parasite for it to be transmitted.
Lackland Airforce Base in Texas has been fighting Chagas Disease in dogs for several years. Chagas disease has infected more than 70 trained military dogs since they identified the problem nine years ago. Initial symptoms were shortness of breath, cough and fainting. Some dogs died suddenly. As you can imagine, it is costly to train dogs to detect bombs and drugs. When a dog is lost it is a financial setback as well as a career and personal struggle for the serviceman or servicewoman assigned to that animal. To combat the problem at Lackland, screening was installed around dog kennels to prevent entry of the insect.
Symptoms of Chagas Disease in Dogs
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Enlarged liver or spleen
- Neurological abnormalities (e.g., seizures)
- Inability to exercise
- Increased heart rate (tachycardia)
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Fluid accumulation throughout the body
7. CAN DOGS AT RESCUE SHELTERS BE INFECTED WITH CHAGAS DISEASE? YES. Texas A&M School of Veterinary Science estimates that one out of every ten dogs at state shelters are infected with Chagas. We interviewed technicians at a Texas animal hospital and they told us that there is no cure for Chagas in dogs so pet owners are less apt to want to get their dogs tested for Chagas in the first place.
Chagas disease is a new challenge for all veterinary practices. As is the case with many new threats, funding is not there to investigate, test and develop diagnostics, treatments and preventatives. Check out this video from a local Texas NBC station. It reports about Lackland Air Force Base and dog shelter estimates.
8. HOW DO KISSING BUGS FIND PEOPLE TO BITE? Chagas disease was once thought to be a problem only in areas with substandard housing – picture thatched roofs, poor insulation, structures in disrepair and non-screened windows. Times and climates have changed. These insects are on the move and are being discovered in all types of regions with varied demographics and financial status, from the city to the country.
Kissing bugs are most active at night. They can detect the warmth of a human’s body and odors, particularly those emitted from the skin and breath. Attracted to light, they fly as adults or crawl when young toward odorous targets and seek shelter in nearby rubble, trash heaps, rat’s nests, wood piles, yard trimmings, dog kennels and clutter inside the home. Windows without screens or doorways with gaps underneath provide easy entry for the kissing bug. They have been known to hide under mattresses and nightstands and in the seams of mattresses during the day much like a bed bug. When evening comes, they climb onto the human and most often bite near the eyes or mouth. The insect’s feces might be inadvertently rubbed into the bite area or come in contact with mucous membranes, therefore possibly transmitting the parasite.
9. WHAT TIME OF YEAR ARE KISSING BUGS ACTIVE? Kissing bugs were once only considered a tropical insect of Latin America because they prefer moderate temperatures – not too hot and not too cold. Kissing bugs become more active when evenings warmup in spring. They come out in search of blood meals to grow and reproduce. If it gets too hot they slow down but will still nest with food sources such as rats, opossums, armadillos and even humans. In the fall they become active again until temperatures turn chilly at night. Kissing bugs can be found any time of year in sheltered areas such as attics, bedrooms, pet kennels and rat nests.
10. WHAT DOES THE BITE SITE LOOK LIKE ON A HUMAN AND ARE SOME PEOPLE ALLERGIC TO THE BITE OF A KISSING BUG? The area may or may not swell. It may become red. The puncture would might be overlooked or be mistaken for a mosquito bite. The skin of the face is often the kissing bug’s favorite spot to “pucker up”. There is a percentage of people who will experience severe anaphylactic shock. Like a tick, they get engorged when they are in the process of feeding.
12. HOW LONG HAVE KISSING BUGS BEEN AROUND? The U.S. National Library of Medicine Institutes of Health reports that there is fossil evidence of triotomines (kissing bugs) existing before human evidence on earth! Reports of sighting of the bugs began in the 1800’s and documentation of the parasite started in the 1940’s.
13. HOW MANY PEOPLE DIE FROM CHAGAS DISEASE EACH YEAR? There is more conclusive evidence of deaths due to Chagas in Central and South America. In Brazil alone, between the years of 1999 and 2007, out of 9 million deaths, 54,000 of those death certificates cited Chagas disease as a cause. It is reported by health officials covering the Americas that 18 million people have become infected with the parasite and every year approximately 14,000 deaths can be attributed to Chagas disease outside the United States. CNN reported in 2015 that the estimate of annual deaths due to Chagas across the globe is approximately 11,000.
14. DO KISSING BUGS LOOK LIKE OTHER BUGS? YES. And this has led to many incorrect posts on Facebook with images of insects that are not the kissing bug. Kissing bugs belong to the Reduviidae family of insects. The family Reduviidae is sometimes also referred to as assassin bugs. Most assassin bugs are predators of other insects, NOT HUMANS OR DOGS! The exception is the kissing bug from the genus genus Triatoma. The kissing bug is parasitic to humans or animals. The wheel bug and assassin bugs you find in the garden are not. The wheel bug has a crest at the top of its body. Although it might bite a human as a defensive mechanism, its main goal is to eat other insects and does not carry the parasite that causes Chagas. Other assassin bugs in the garden also attack aphids and leafhoppers. These “good bugs” do not feed on human or pet blood, or transmit diseases to humans or pets. They may bite if handled and it hurts but they will not give you Chagas disease! Kissing bugs have thin legs from top to the bottom. Therefore, you should also not get them confused with leaf-footed bugs.
15. HAS ANYONE DIED FROM CHAGAS DISEASE IN THE UNITED STATES? None that have been recorded officially. That answer cannot be given with certainty because there may have been deaths from Chagas disease that were never detected and recorded. The disease was found in the United States in 1916. Although Chagas is not a new issue, states health authorities are only now beginning to report it officially and many doctors do not screen for it without cause. Today we can estimate how many people have contracted Chagas disease in the United States. Texas A&M University and Oxford Journals Clinical Infectious Diseases estimates that 300,000 Latin American immigrants to the United States have Chagas disease. For more information, go to Texas A&M University or Oxford Journals Clinical Infectious Diseases for detailed and updated information. Go to this webpage for examples of patient cases in the United States and the case for more sophisticated training for physicians about Chagas, the kissing bug and allergic reactions to the bite.
16. WHAT ARE MY CHANCES OF GETTING CHAGAS DISEASE IN THE UNITED STATES? Realize that not all kissing bugs carry the parasite and therefore not all people bitten will contract Chagas disease. This is the most definitive answer available at this time. If you plan to travel to Central or South America, be aware that you could come into contact with kissing bugs while hiking, camping and sleeping in low lying shelters, cabins and guest housing.
17. CAN HUMANS PASS THE PARASITE ON TO OTHER HUMANS? Yes. Chagas can be transmitted by humans through unscreened blood transfusions and from mother to unborn child. It can also be transmitted through transplant procedures. None of these examples have been an issue in the United States.
18. CAN YOU GET CHAGAS DISEASE FROM FOOD? Unlikely, but YES it is possible. Food that is contaminated with the parasite from the feces of the insect and contaminated, unpasteurized drinks including fruit juices can transmit the disease.
19. WHAT CONDITIONS AROUND THE HOME ATTRACT KISSING BUGS? Kissing bus love places that shield them from harm and harsh weather. The list of hiding places is provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
- Chicken coops
- Dog kennels and outdoor god houses
- Rodent nests and animal burrows including those of rats, armadillos, bats and raccoons
- Under brush and rock piles, and around rock structures
- In deep cracks and crevices under cement
- Under porches
- Other resources such as travel websites and worldwide disease control agencies mention cabins and huts in areas where Chagas disease is a known threat.
20. HOW DO I PREVENT THE KISSING BUG FROM ENTERING MY HOME? Use this checklist to make it less likely that the kissing bug will find you and your pets:
- INSPECT WINDOW CASINGS OUTSIDE AT DUSK: Kissing bugs like to hide in the dark during the day but as evening approaches they move toward potential blood meals. They are highly attracted to light. Look around your windows and door frames from the outside at dusk and even after it gets dark to detect unwanted insects like the kissing bug.
- CHECK FOR CRACKS AND GAPS IN, AROUND AND UNDER YOUR HOME: Seal around windows, walls, roofs, and doors. Seal holes and cracks leading to the attic and crawl spaces below the house and leading to the outside. If you can see light through a gap, seal it. Kissing bugs are flat and can squeeze through small areas.
- CLEAN UP RUBBLE AND BRUSH NEAR THE HOME: Remove wood, brush, and rock piles near your house.
- INSTALL TIGHT FITTING SCREENS IN EVERY WINDOW: Use screens on doors and windows and repairing any holes or tears.
- LET THERE BE – DARKNESS: If possible, make sure yard lights are not close to your house (lights can attract the bugs).
- KEEP PETS INSIDE AT NIGHT: Have pets sleep indoors, especially at night.
- PERIODICALLY CLEAN AND INSPECT PET RESTING AREAS: Keep your house and any outdoor pet resting areas clean, in addition to periodically checking both areas for the presence of bugs.
- INSPECT BEDROOMS AT HOME AND WHILE TRAVELING: Look in between the mattress and frame, under the bed stand, in drawers and behind objects. Kissing bugs love to hide in dark places.
21. HOW CAN I PREPARE IF I PLAN TO TRAVEL TO CENTRAL OR SOUTH AMERICA? The international association of for Medical Assistance to Travelers provides information and warning for individual countries. If you plan to travel to any countries in Central of South America, check for their country-specific guidance. See the link at the end of this article to the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers.
22. WHAT DO I DO IF I SEE A KISSING BUG? Do not touch or handle a kissing bug or the area with bare hands. TRY NOT TO SQUISH IT! The feces of the kissing bug transmits the parasite. If possible, coax it into a container of alcohol with a stick using gloves hands and long sleeves and pants. Make sure the container is secure and bring the insect to your health department. If you spot a kissing bug in your house, do a thorough cleaning.
23. CAN I SPRAY CHEMICALS TO KILL OR REPEL THE KISSING BUG? Synthetic pyrethroid sprays have been used successfully in Latin America to eliminate house infestations. Although similar chemicals are available in the United States, none have been specifically approved for use against triatomine bugs. There is not enough cause to start deploying these practices. A licensed pest control operator should be consulted if considering the use of insecticides.
Permethrin-treated bed nets have been proven effective at killing kissing bugs. Would you want to sleep in one if the risk to you was extremely low? Roach traps have not been found effective to lure and kill the kissing bug. Instead of resorting to chemicals, remember this rhyme to put things in perspective: Before you spray, clean away! Get rid of the conditions that attract kissing. Have you ever heard of a more compelling argument to clean up the bedroom clutter and clothes on the floor? A study in 2014 by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health reported that kissing bugs have not yet colonized homes in the United States.
24. WHAT DO I DO IF I THINK I’VE BEEN BITTEN BY A KISSING BUG? See a doctor. Realize that doctors in the United States are not as knowledgeable about Chagas Disease as doctors in Latin America. Go to the emergency room if you experience an anaphylactic reaction. Search your home with gloves hands, long pants and long sleeves. Clean your home and property.
25. WHAT DO I DO IF I THINK I HAVE CHAGAS DISEASE? Check out this statistic reported by Centers of Disease Control and Prevention: Between 20% and 30% of those infected with the parasite result in chronic conditions that aren’t detected until later in life such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, tiredness, and in rare cases, sudden death. If you suspect you have Chagas disease, consult your health care provider. Or, to find a physician familiar with diagnosis and treatment of Chagas disease and other parasitic infections, ask your general practitioner or primary care physician for a referral. You may wish to consider visiting a physician who specializes in infectious diseases. To locate a clinician in your area, please visit the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene’s Clinical Consultants Directory.
Texas A&M University – Agriculture and Life Sciences
International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers
US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Images
Disclaimer: This is information compiled from various sources plus the opinion of the author. The author is not a doctor or an authority on insects and diseases. For official information go to the centers for disease control and other references provided above.