Have you ever heard of a kissing bug? Also called triatomine bugs, these winged insects are known for their habit of feeding on the blood of humans and animals.
While they’re most commonly found in Latin America, they’ve recently been making their way into the southern United States. Read on to learn more about these strange creatures.
- Once only common in South America and Central America, kissing bugs are now found all over the southern United States, including in Texas.
- Researchers believe that 50-60% of all kissing bug specimens likely harbor T. Cruzi, the parasite responsible for Chagas disease in humans.
- These pests often bite at night, typically in the mouth area, and can spread a parasitic infection that’s hard to treat.
Kissing Bugs: The Basics
The scientific name for kissing bugs is Triatominae. There are over 140 different species in this family of insects, all of which are capable of carrying parasites that can cause Chagas disease in humans.
Kissing bugs range in size from 7-40 mm, with most falling somewhere in the middle of that range. They have flat bodies and pointed heads, with large front legs that they use for grasping their prey. Their wings are clear with dark markings near the base, and their abdomens are often brightly colored.
Kissing bugs are nocturnal predators that feed on the blood of mammals, birds, and reptiles. Their long mouthparts allow them to pierce their victim’s skin and suck out their blood. They often enter homes in search of food, which is why they’re sometimes called “assassin bugs.”
In the wild, kissing bugs can live for up to two years. However, their lifespan is much shorter when they’re kept in captivity; most only live for 6-8 months under those conditions.
Why Are Kissing Bugs So Concerning?
The kissing bug is a small insect that lives in warm climates. It gets its name from its habit of biting people around their mouths, and in doing so, it can transmit a dangerous parasite known as Trypanosoma Cruzi. This parasite causes Chagas disease, which is a serious and often fatal illness.
The parasite is often found on dogs and other wild animals, but can also be spread to humans.
More than 6-7 million people worldwide are infected with Chagas disease, and it is believed that many of those infected will go on to develop serious health problems as a result of the infection. In fact, Chagas disease is considered one of the most neglected tropical diseases by the World Health Organization.
Chagas disease can cause a wide range of health problems in those infected, including heart disease, digestive problems, and even strokes. The disease can be difficult to treat, and there is no cure. As such, it is important to take steps to prevent infection in the first place.
There are eleven species of kissing bugs found in the United States, with at least eight of them (or perhaps all) believed to harbor Trypanosoma Cruzi, the parasite responsible for the spread of Chagas disease.
However, this number may be higher in areas where the disease is more common. For example, in Latin America and certain parts of the United States, it is estimated that up to 50% of all kissing bugs are carriers of the parasite.
How Common Are Kissing Bugs in Texas?
In Texas, kissing bugs are not as common as in other parts of the country. However, there have been some reports of people being bitten by these insects. And about 50-60% of all kissing bugs in Texas may be infected with T. cruzi.
There have also been a few reports of people in Texas being infected with Chagas disease from kissing bugs.
Overall, the number of people in Texas who have been affected by kissing bugs is relatively small. However, it is important to be aware of these insects and to take steps to avoid being bitten by them.
How Do I Know If I’ve Been Bitten by a Kissing Bug?
The most common symptom of a kissing bug bite is intense itching.
Other symptoms may include redness, swelling, and hives. In some cases, people may also experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you experience any of these symptoms after being outdoors in an area where kissing bugs are known to reside, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.
Kissing bug bites usually occur around the eyes or mouth. While rare, some people may have a severe allergic reaction to a kissing bug bite. This is typically characterized by difficulty breathing, chest pain, and dizziness.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately as they could indicate a life-threatening emergency.
If you think you’ve been bitten by a kissing bug, the first thing you should do is wash the affected area with soap and water. This will help prevent infection. You can also apply a cold compress to the area to help reduce itching and swelling.
If symptoms persist or worsen, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible so that they can determine the best course of treatment. In some cases, oral or topical steroids may be prescribed to help manage itching and swelling.
Severe allergic reactions may require hospitalization and treatment with injectable steroids or epinephrine.
If you know that you’ve been bitten by a kissing bug specifically, it’s a good idea to head to a doctor to get medical treatment even if you are asymptomatic. The infection from the Chagas parasite can be treated in the acute phase, but can be tough to treat later on, which is often when symptoms first appear and can be many years later.
Staying Safe From Kissing Bugs
The best way to keep kissing bugs out of your home is by taking preventive measures. Start by sealing any cracks or holes in your walls and screens so that bugs can’t get inside.
You should also remove any sources of food and water that might attract them. This includes things like pet food, bird seed, and standing water outside your home.
It’s also important to regularly inspect your home for signs of an infestation.
Be on the lookout for fecal stains on your walls or floors which could be a sign that there are bugs in your home.
If you do come across a kissing bug, it’s important not to touch it with bare skin, as this can transmit the parasites that cause Chagas disease.
Instead, use a stick or some other object to trap the bug, and then place it in a container with alcohol or soap and water so it drowns, according to the Center for Disease Control. If these aren’t available, freeze the bug in the container to kill it.
Finally, call an exterminator or pest control service so they can properly remove the infestation from your home.
Kissing bugs may be small creatures, but they can pose a big threat to both humans and animals alike.
If you think you may have seen one of these insects in your home or elsewhere, it’s important to take steps to eradicate them as soon as possible—not only to protect yourself and your loved ones from disease but also to help prevent them from spreading further throughout the country.
Questions Others Are Asking
Can kissing bugs bite through clothes?
These blood-sucking insects get their name from their habit of biting people around the mouth and eyes, and they can transmit a dangerous disease called Chagas disease. Thankfully, there’s no need to panic if you see a kissing bug. While they can bite through clothes, they’re not likely to actually penetrate your skin.
What’s the difference between a stink bug and a kissing bug?
Stink bugs are nuisance pests that feed on plants but cause little real damage. Kissing bugs, on the other hand, can transmit a dangerous disease called Chagas disease. Both stink bugs and kissing bugs are common in warm climates, and both have long, oval-shaped bodies. However, stink bugs are typically green or brown, while kissing bugs are usually red or black.