How to avoid the bite of a kissing bug

Triatoma_sanguisuga
CC BY 4.0 Triatoma sanguisuga (Photo: Robert Webster/xpda.com)

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.

kissing bugCDC/Public Domain

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.

kissing bugCDC/Public Domain

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.

How to avoid the bite of a kissing bug
Kissing bugs can carry the parasite that causes Chagas disease, and they are now making their way through the US.

Related Content on Treehugger.com