Kissing Bug Bites

Appearance

Kissing bugs get their common name from their behavior of obtaining a blood meal from around the lips, face, hands, feet, head and other parts of the body exposed during sleep. Their blood feeding activity around the face gives credibility to the association with kissing.

These insects are also called conenose bugs, due in part to an elongated, cone shape head. Kissing bugs may also be called triatomine bugs, since they are classified as members of the genus Triatoma. Other than their head shape, these insects can be recognized having a short beak that fits into a groove at the bottom part of its thorax when not in use. The beak (proboscis) is thin and straight and designed for sucking blood from vertebrate hosts. Their abdomen is fairly flat and has orange and black colored markings where the abdomen extends past the edges of the folded wings. Most adults are good flyers and about one to one and a half inches long. If you should find what you think could be a kissing bug, carefully collect the insect and send it to you local extension service office for identification.

Health Risks of Kissing Bug Bites

Kissing bugs are able to transmit the parasite that causes Chagas disease, an emerging infectious disease that occasionally occurs in the southwestern parts of the United States. Kissing bugs are nocturnal feeders that take blood from people and other hosts such as dogs at night while they sleep. Since the bites are painless, hosts usually do not wake up. The common hosts of kissing bugs include wild rodents, other wild mammals, domestic dogs, and of course people.  Both male and female kissing bugs bite.

In order to be infected by the Chagas disease organism (Trypanasomi cruzi), the bite wound must be contaminated by kissing bug feces that the insect excretes in the process of blood feeding. Since kissing bugs have a peculiar behavior of defecating while they consume a blood meal, a bite victim can unknowingly rub the bug’s feces into the bite wound and thus become infected. In addition to this manner of transmission, contamination of eyes and swallowing bug feces also allows the Chagas disease organism to enter the body.

Other medical problems sometimes caused by kissing bug bites are allergic reactions to the bug’s saliva that appears as severe redness, itching, swelling and secondary infections caused by bacterial contamination of the bite wound.

There is currently no vaccination that protects against Chagas disease for either dogs or humans, but benznidazone and nifurtimox are effective in treating Chagas disease if the disease is recognized and treated in its early stage. Unquestionably, homeowners should contact their pest management professional if they suspect kissing bugs are near or inside their home.