Kissing bugs and Chagas disease

Triatomine bugs, also known as kissing bugs, reduviid bugs and cone-nose bugs, are almost an inch long with elongated cone-shaped heads.  The body is grayish-brown with a wide abdomen that has flattened sides.  The flattened sides of the abdomen stick out beyond the wing margins and are marked with red, orange or yellow stripes.  Nymphs (immatures) look similar to adults, but lack fully developed wings.

There are other insects in Texas that look similar and can be mistaken for kissing bugs.  Many of these insects do NOT bite and do NOT transmit disease organisms.  You can find some common insects that are mistaken for kissing bugs here.

Adults are capable of flying and are attracted to lights at night.  The insects can be drawn towards the house by leaving outside lights on at night.  Once inside, they will find a host and feed at night.  After engorging themselves, they move away from the host to hide in cracks and crevices during the day.  Outside, the bugs can be found in animal bedding or nests such as doghouses, chicken coops or rodent nests.

Some Triatomine bugs carry the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi which can cause Chagas disease in humans, dogs and other small mammals.  T. cruzi, a protozoan, is transmitted via the insect’s feces when it is scratched into a wound or rubbed into a mucous membrane.  Immediate (acute) symptoms of Chagas may be swelling of the face (especially the area around the eye), swelling of other areas of the body, moderate to high fever, but sometimes acute symptoms never occur.  Treatment is available during the acute phase, so see a physician as soon as possible if you suspect Chagas.

To reduce the chance of Triatomine bugs entering the home, work on excluding them.  Some of the following may help to seal the home to keep the bugs outside.

  • Prune trees and shrubs so they do not touch or overhang the house
  • Do not stack firewood or other items against the house
  • Install weather stripping around loose fitting doors and windows- if you can see daylight around a door during the day, then the weather stripping should be replaced
  • Block weep holes in brick or stone façade homes with copper mesh
  • Use stainless steel mesh wire to block access points in the attic (i.e. vents)
  • Keep window screens in good repair
  • Turn off outside lights at night.  If that is not possible, use “bug bulbs” that have a wavelength less attractive to insects

You can find more detailed information on kissing bugs, Chagas, and where to submit samples on this TAMU website.

Also, media outlets in Dallas recently ran a story on Kissing bugs and Chagas.  You can find footage of that here.

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