Over the past few weeks Kissing Bugs have been in the news and along with Chagas disease. Kissing bugs are insects that may be infected with Trypanosoma cruzi a parasite that causes Chagas, which is a disease in humans and dogs. Kissing bugs are also known as cone-nose bugs or chinches. Kissing bugs feed on blood during the night. They get the name kissing bugs because they prefer to bite humans around the mouth or eyes.

Chagas disease is a major public health problem throughout Central and South America. It is a believed that the bugs and parasite are more common in the southern United States than thought. Studies have found that, on average, 50 percent of kissing bugs are infected with the Chagas parasite.

The parasites live in the digestive tract of the bugs and are shed in the bug feces. When infectious bug fecal material contaminates the mucous membranes or the site of a bug bite on a mammal, transmission of the parasite can occur. Alternately, dogs can also become infected through the consumption of infected bugs.

Kissing bugs can feed upon many species of animals which serve as a source of parasite infection to the bug. The parasite has been found to infect domestic dogs, humans, opossums, woodrats, armadillos, coyotes, mice, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. Wildlife is responsible for maintaining this parasite in nature. Therefore, Chagas disease emerges at the intersection of wildlife, domestic animals, humans, and vector populations in areas such as homes, hunting cabins, dog kennels, or other areas where they may find hosts on which to feed.

Kissing bugs can be found around woodpiles, debris in the yard, and woodrat nests, but are also attracted to the lights and carbon dioxide that are associated with human houses and dog kennels. There are seven species of kissing bug that are found in Texas, with the most common being around 1 inch long. They are recognized by their elongated or “cone-shaped” head.

If you believe that you have found a kissing bug, do not touch it with your bare hands. The parasite they may harbor can be transmitted to humans and other animals. Also, all surfaces with which the bug came into contact should be thoroughly cleaned with a bleach solution. If you see a bug you believe is a kissing bug and would like confirmation of the species identity you may submit it for testing. The Texas A&M Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences accepts carefully obtained samples. Use a glove or small plastic bag to catch the bug to avoid direct contact with the bug. Store the bug in a sealed plastic bag, in a vial, or other small container. The lab also requests that you provide them detail on where and when the bug was found, and if it was alive, what it was doing. 

A single kissing bug in the home is not necessarily cause for alarm. Kissing bugs are nocturnal and may be attracted to nighttime lights. In this way, solitary individuals may enter a home. However the presence of nymphs (unwinged bugs) or numerous adult Kissing bugs in your home suggested that a breeding population may be established nearby. Under these circumstances control may be justified.

Kissing bug infestations are likely to be more common in poorly constructed homes. Good sanitation and tight building construction tends to limit Kissing bug infestations. Destroy trash piles, bird and animal nests and burrows. Control and exclude rodents and birds from the house. Seal exterior cracks and openings into buildings and keep chimney flues closed tightly. Inspect and seal any openings from crawl spaces into the house sub-flooring. Check pets for signs of feeding and examine pet houses. Keeping lights off in and around dog kennels will also reduce drawing this insect into the area.

Insecticides can effectively control Kissing bugs. Treat room corners and edges, window and door frames, pet houses, and other suspected entry points with a pesticide labeled for these sites. Few household insecticides are labeled specifically for use against Kissing bug; however products intended for indoor use against cockroaches or other indoor pests can be used. Look for products containing permethrin, bifenthrin, esfenvalerate or cyfluthrin.

For additional information on kissing bugs and Chagas disease visit: http://kissingbug.tamu.edu/