Kissing bugs are in the news and I want to give you some info on them. They are mostly in the
news because of the potential to spread Chagas disease. We do need to be aware of kissing bugs, AKA conenose bugs, assassin bugs and Mexican bedbugs. A bite from one of these bugs can result in anaphylaxis in sensitive individuals. There are about 11 species of kissing bugs (genus Triatoma) in the U.S. and they are found in the southern states. The true kissing bugs from South America will come into bed at night and bite a person on or around their lips. They are attracted to the carbon dioxide we exhale.
Adults are ½ to 1 inch long, brownish-black, broad, flat, but stout-bodied, with 6 reddish-orange spots on each side of the abdomen, above and below. It has an elongated, cone-shaped head, from which it derives its nickname, conenose bug. The beak is slender and tapered and almost bare. Its wings are normally folded across the back while resting or crawling and not usually noticed by the casual observer. These insects will feed on any animal, including humans, but they prefer rodents, particularly packrats in our area. If a packrat has a midden (nest) near your house, the kissing bugs may find their way inside and hide under furniture, between mattresses or in closets during the day. At night, they venture out in search of a blood meal, which may be a sleeping pet or human.
The bite of the kissing bug is painless because its saliva contains an anesthetic. People are usually awakened by itching, swelling, rapid heartbeat, or other reactive symptoms caused by the bite and not when they are bitten. A full blood meal requires an average of ten minutes, and the numerous bites the victim sees may be due to a disturbance during feeding, which causes the insect to reinsert its proboscis, the tubular feeding structure. As mentioned earlier, anaphylactic reactions may occur, with weakness, sweating, nausea, abdominal cramping and vaginal bleeding. It should be noted that individuals who are bitten often develop a greater sensitivity to the bites. In South and Central America, kissing bugs are vectors of chagas disease. Chagas disease has been found in Texas, but they believe it is found in immigrants who came from Latin America. There are a number of cases of Chagas disease in Europe now and they don’t even have kissing bugs. Their cases are all from people who came from Latin America also. Chagas disease isn’t contagious, so the immigrants aren’t going to spread it. All kissing bugs, even ours in this country, have the parasite in their system that causes Chagas disease, but it has not been spread in North America. In Latin America, there are many places where there is poor housing where kissing bugs can easily get in a home and infest it while feeding on the occupants. Our urban areas aren’t compatible to kissing bugs and most homes are fairly well sealed, at least having all doors and windows.
In order to control these insects, you need to inspect your property periodically. During the daytime the kissing bugs seek dark places to hide, so look beneath flower pots and outdoor furniture, especially those that sit nearly flush with the ground. Check your sheds, garage, and under porches. All cracks and openings into buildings should be sealed as completely as possible. Entry into the home does not require a large opening. They are attracted to light, so keep your curtains closed at night so they aren’t attracted to your indoor lights. Make sure your doors close tightly and your windows and screens are not loose.
If you have pack rats on your property, you need to find their middens and remove them and spray the area with a mixture of half and half water and alcohol and a couple of tablespoons of dish soap in a gallon amount. Pack rat middens also contain fleas and mites, which is why you need to remove them and spray the area.