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The kissing bug & Chagas disease

Kising Bug

Recently, stories have been grabbing headlines about the studies showing that the illnesses known as Chagas disease is potentially deadlier than first anticipated. This brought the words “kissing bug” back into popular vernacular, once again.  However, the media coverage seems to indicate that kissing bugs are everywhere and are a terrible risk to citizens in the United States.

The facts are not quite so cut and dried. Yes, Chagas Disease often leads to potentially life-threatening heart disease to those who are infected and the disease is carried by the Kissing bug. However, what is not true is that there is a serious threat of contracting the disease, or even seeing a Kissing Bug here in the United States.

If you have any kind of pest problems, even concerns about kissing bugs, contact the experts at Ehrlich Pest Control

What is the kissing bug? 

The assassin bug Rhynocoris annulatus isolated on white background, head-on view.

The insect known as the Kissing Bug is actually known scientifically as the Triatomine. They are common in many places and relatives of the Chagas-carrying variety do exist in the U.S. However, there are some very key differences between the ones you are likely to run into in the United States and those you will run into in Mexico, Central America and South America.

Kissing bugs share the following traits:

  • Adults are 1/2 to 1 inch in length

  • Oval shaped

  • Black in color with yellow or orange or red horizontal stripes around the edge of their abdomen

  • A slender head with a very prominent beak

The kissing bug has a long proboscis. It is tucked under their head most of the time, but when they feed on the blood of their prey, it comes out and pierces the flesh of whatever they have decided to feed upon. It has been reported that the bite is not painful and the insect will feed its fill of blood and then move on.

Types of kissing bugs 

Kissing bugs are usually classified into three different areas:

Sylvatic – these types of Triatomine usually inhabit the homes and nests of wild animals such as rodents. They also nest with and feed off of amphibians and reptiles. They prefer to live in underground burrows for animals like rodents and armadillos. These types of Kissing bugs are found in the United States.

Periodomestic – these species of insect can sometimes be found inside people’s homes, but that’s only because they tend to take up residence in structures that are near people’s homes. For example chicken coops, stables, pig enclosures and rabbit/guinea pig hutches.

Domestic – this species of Kissing Bug will take up residence in people’s homes, particularly the thatched roofs and straw or palm leaves used for the roof. They also will reside in mud-brick walls that people use for their homes. This is how they end up in contact with humans but are common in places like Mexico, Central and South America. They are generally not found in the U.S.

Kissing bug behavior 

kissing bug

Kissing bugs are blood-feeders. They seek out mammals with which to feed upon and they do so at night. They pierce the skin with their proboscis and will inflate as they consume blood. The Kissing bugs that are known to feed off of humans tend to favor consuming blood on or near the prey’s mouth. This has given them their nickname of “kissing bug.”

How do kissing bugs transmit Chagas disease?

The species of Kissing Bugs that carry the disease in their system will feed on their victims and then defecate. They do so immediately after they complete their blood meal. Because the bite itches, the victim will likely scratch at the area, which will cause the feces to be smeared into the wound and that will cause them to become infected with Chagas.

What is Chagas disease? 

The disease has symptoms that change over time and become more severe as time goes by. At first, the bite area will appear swollen and the victim may develop a fever, headaches and swollen lymph nodes. All of these can be very similar to flu symptoms. However, some people may not get any of these symptoms at all.

The disease, however, is sneaky. For many who get bitten, the symptoms disappear after a couple of weeks and then lay dormant for 30 to 40 years. The initial stage is known as the acute stage, but the later stage is chronic. When the chronic stage appears, decades later, it can attack the nervous system, digestive system and heart.

The most serious concern is the damage done to the heart. The disease can enlarge the ventricles of the heart which can cause the heart to beat erratically and lead to death.

The disease can also affect digestion, making it hard to eat which is accompanied by severe weight loss and difficulty swallowing.

For some victims, the disease can progress so far it brings about sensory impairment, dementia, encephalitis, and sensory and motor difficulties. Cells can die off and tissue can die and, in some cases, this can lead to death.

How to get rid of and prevent kissing bugs

Kissing bug on leaf

If you do have kissing bugs anywhere on your property, it is best to contact a professional pest control expert. They will inspect the property and look for potential entry points. If you have seen any of the insects, tell your pest specialist where they are hiding.

To prevent kissing bugs from getting in your home:  

  • Seal up cracks and close windows if you find any in the area.

  • Make sure that doors are sealed at the bottom.

  • Be sure to inspect plants and materials that are delivered to your home from Mexico, Central and South America.

  • Get rid of areas that kissing bugs might like to use for hiding places during the day like woodpiles and rock piles.

  • Make sure that animal and pet enclosures are cleaned thoroughly.

  • Make sure that light bulbs on porches are changed to yellow because kissing bugs will find them less attractive.

If you have questions or concerns about kissing bugs, make sure to contact an Ehrlich Pest Control specialist and tell them so they can make sure you are clear.

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