Kissing bugs are insect pests that belong to the Reduviidae family of true bugs, and several species in the southern states regularly invade homes where they inflict bites on humans. These insects generally invade homes in large numbers during the nighttime hours where they suck blood from sleeping humans, and the pain and irritation associated with these bites are not usually noticed until victims wake up in the morning. Unfortunately, the bites that these winged insects inflict are not always harmless to humans and pets, as kissing bug bites trigger potentially fatal anaphylactic reactions more frequently than any other biting insects in the US. What is even more alarming is the fact that multiple kissing bug species in San Antonio transmit a serious parasitic disease to humans known as chagas disease. In fact, San Antonio and other urban areas in Bexar County saw most of the 20 locally acquired chagas disease cases that were reported in Texas during 2016.
Several kissing bug species have long been transmitting chagas disease to millions of people living in South America and Mexico, and while these same species inhabit the southern US, chagas disease has only recently emerged as a public health threat in the country. Kissing bugs get their common name from their habit of biting facial skin, especially around the lips. After spending several minutes collecting human blood, these bugs excrete parasite-contaminated feces near the bite wound. This parasite species is known as T. cruzi, and it reaches the bloodstream after humans inadvertently smear the feces into their bite wound while moving about during sleep or while itching the bite. Most bite victims wake up in the morning to find several bite wounds, numerous dead kissing bugs littering the ground, and feces smeared on clothing, bedding, and walls.
The Smithson Valley Animal Hospital’s veterinarian director Doctor Roy Madigan states that San Antonio residents are at the greatest risk of contracting chagas disease from kissing bugs within their home, as well over 60 percent of all individual bugs within the city’s kissing bug population carry the T. cruzi parasite. These bugs have been found in all types of homes in San Antonio including apartments, condos, single family residences, and multi-million dollar mansions. Kissing bugs can be recognized for their thin antennae, long thin legs, cone shaped head, and their brown to black bodies which measure between ½ and one inch in length. They also have distinct orange or red colored lines along the edges of their tear-drop shaped backs. University entomologists and many pest control professionals in Texas have recently made a kissing bug information booklet available to all residents.
Have you ever heard of kissing bugs?