Kissing bugs are airborne insect pests that enter homes where they bite humans and pets in order to collect blood-meals. These insect pests are well known for transmitting a parasite that causes chagas disease in humans and certain animals in South America and Mexico, but until recently, kissing bugs were not considered a disease threat in the US. Studies conducted within the past few years show that kissing bugs carrying the parasite, T. cruzi, are increasing in prevalence within Texas and 27 other states located in the southern half of the country. In fact, researchers have confirmed that half or more of all kissing bugs within sampled populations collected in various areas throughout Texas carry the T. cruzi parasite.
While very few people have contracted chagas disease within the continental US, recent survey results suggest that the disease may soon become a serious public health threat in the southern US. This is especially troubling for residents of Texas, as the state is home to seven kissing bug species, each one of which is capable of transmitting T. cruzi. Unfortunately, dogs are particularly vulnerable to chagas disease, and there does not exist any vaccine or treatment regimen that can adequately address canine chagas disease cases.
The T. cruzi parasite is not directly transmitted into the bloodstream via kissing bug bites; instead, the parasite is spread through bloodborne contact with the insect’s fecal matter. After kissing bugs collect a blood-meal, the insect pests defecate on the skin, often resulting in infected excrement being smeared into bite wounds. Dogs often contract the disease by consuming infected kissing bugs, and most canine chagas disease cases result in death.
Controlling kissing bugs is quite difficult, but professional treatments involving residual insecticide applications to the exterior walls of homes and surrounding property can provide temporary protection from indoor invasions. The cheapest, and perhaps, the most effective method of preventing indoor kissing bug invasions is to apply sealant to cracks, crevices and other potential kissing bug entry points on the exterior walls of homes.
Have you ever encountered one or more kissing bugs within your home?