Recently, a newcomer has been reported in the tristate area (Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana): The “kissing bug”.
The name makes the creature sound almost cute but it really isn’t. The “kissing bug” (a.k.a. triatomine bug) is actually an insect that feeds on the blood of mammals, including humans. It gets its nickname because it frequently bites its victims on the face or neck most often at night when they are asleep. As if that weren’t bad enough, the insect may carry a parasite that causes the potentially fatal Chagas disease.
Kissing bugs look like a beetle or perhaps a cockroach. They have cone-shaped heads and thin antennae and legs. The female’s shell ends in a point making her look somewhat like an elongated heart. The male’s shell is rounded at the bottom. Kissing bugs are typically black or dark brown and may have red or orange markings around the edge of their shell. They are fairly small, measuring approximately an inch or slightly more when fully grown. For perspective, this makes them slightly longer than a quarter which is 0.96 inches in diameter.
According to the CDC, the triatomine bug can commonly be found:
- Beneath porches.
- Between rocky structures.
- In wood piles.
- Beneath the bark of trees.
- In rodent nests or burrows.
- In outdoor animal shelter such as dog houses, kennels, and chicken coops.
They can also infest houses using cracks and holes; however, in the United States, where houses are typically well built and secure, this is unusual. If the triatomine bug infests a house it will typically be found in or around a food source. This means, for example, under a mattress or in a pet bed.
When a kissing bug bites someone, it also defecates on or near that spot. The parasites that cause Chagas disease enter the body when the person rubs or scratches the bug feces into the bite, eyes, mouth, or any break in the skin.
The Smithsonian says “Most sources label Chagas as a tropical disease, but it used to be more common in the southern U.S. and now seems to be making a comeback.” Why? No one is entirely sure; however, some experts have hypothesized that it has to do with warmer climates.
Chagas disease (a.k.a trypanosomiasis) presents in two phases: Acute and chronic.
During the acute phase, which lasts approximately 2 months after the bite, an individual may have no symptoms of illness at all. Some, less than 50% according to the World Health Organization, will have the following symptoms:
- Swelling around the bite
- Discoloration around the bite
- Muscle pain
- Enlarged lymph glands
- Abdominal pain
Unless swelling or discoloration around the bite are present, these symptoms may easily be mistaken for the flu.
The chronic phase comes much later. In fact, the parasites may lay dormant for decades. WHO says:
“During the chronic phase, the parasites are hidden mainly in the heart and digestive muscles. Up to 30% of patients suffer from cardiac disorders and up to 10% suffer from digestive (typically enlargement of the oesophagus or colon), neurological or mixed alterations. In later years the infection can lead to sudden death or heart failure caused by progressive destruction of the heart muscle and its nervous system.”
World Health Organization
Fortunately, the risk of catching Chagas in the United States is pretty small, and no cases have been reported in Ohio as of yet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that only 300,000 people in America are infected with the parasite. When you consider that the population of the U.S. is 318,900,000 you can see that it is a very small percentage indeed.
However, that doesn’t mean that you should dismiss the kissing bug or Chagas disease. While you shouldn’t panic, you should take precautions. After all, better safe than sorry, right? To prevent an indoor infestation try:
- Sealing cracks and gaps around windows and doors.
- Keeping wood and brush piles away from the house.
- Putting wood piles up on a platform.
- Bringing pets indoors, especially at night.
- Getting rid of rodent infestations.
- Checking outdoor areas such as animal shelters for the presence of bugs on a regular basis.
If you find a bug that you believe to be a kissing bug, do not touch it with your bare hands and do not squish it as you may expose yourself to the parasites. Instead, while wearing gloves, scoop the insect into an airtight container or plastic bag. Seal the container or bag and contact a pest control professional to evaluate the bug. You can utilize online resources such as Scherzinger’s new pest library to help rule out other insects. In addition to securing the kissing bug, be sure to clean any surfaces it may have come into contact with thoroughly.
If you suspect kissing bugs may be living in or around your home, contact a professional like those at Scherzinger Pest Control today! Scherzinger Termite and Pest Control is a trusted pest control company in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky areas, including Dayton, OH, and now Columbus, OH. We’ve been pioneers, engineering new standards for ways of eliminating and controlling bugs and pests. Contact us by phone at 1-877-748-9888 or through our website, Facebook, or Twitter.
PHOTO CREDIT: CDC.