The bloodsucking insect pests commonly known as “kissing bugs” belong to the genus Triatoma, and they are well known for their nighttime habit of invading homes in large numbers where they bite sleeping humans. Much like bed bugs, kissing bugs have adapted to feed at night in order to avoid alerting their human hosts to their harmful presence. Also like bed bugs, kissing bugs rely on human blood as one of their primary food sources, and their saliva contains anesthetic compounds that allow them to pierce skin and suck blood for several minutes without waking their human hosts.
Kissing bug saliva also contains compounds that trigger allergic reactions, including potentially fatal cases of anaphylaxis. In fact, kissing bugs may be responsible for more cases of anaphylaxis than any other biting arthropod pest, as studies show a 5 percent incidence rate among the general population. It is not uncommon for sensitive individuals to experience as many as 15 systemic allergic reactions per year in response to kissing bug bites. Worst of all, kissing bugs transmit chagas disease to humans, and not only are chagas-carrying kissing bugs becoming more prevalent in central Texas, but all species in the south are becoming increasingly well adapted to human settings.
Of all US states, Texas is home to the highest number of disease-carrying kissing bug species, as eight of the country’s 11 species are abundant throughout the state. According to a recent field study carried out in residential homes in Austin, three kissing bug species are regular home invaders in the city, all of which were found to carry the chagas-causing parasite known as T. cruzi. These three species, in descending order of prevalence, were T. gerstaeckeri, T. sanguisuga, and T. lecticularia. More than half of the specimens from each of these three species that had been collected from Austin homes were infected with T. cruzi.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease threat posed by home-invading kissing bugs is increasing dramatically in the southern US, particularly in Texas. The CDC also states that some of the most common areas where kissing bugs hide out during the day include beneath porches, decks, beds, mattresses, and around headboards, nightstands, areas where dogs sleep, and in various cracks and crevices on both interior and exterior walls. Kissing bug species in Texas all have a similar dark colored and oval shaped appearance similar to that of boxelder bugs.
Have you ever sustained a kissing bug bite within your home?