If You Live in These States, Report This Bug to Local Officials
The kissing bug carries a disease that can be deadly.
There are a handful of disease-carrying bugs that are widely regarded as dangerous nuisances, including dreaded pests like mosquitoes and ticks. But there are also lesser-known disease-carrying bugs, like the triatoma, also known as the "kissing bug." It's been spotted in at least 26 U.S. states, and it carries a disease that affects hundreds of thousands of people in the country. Recently, one state's health department asked that people notify local officials immediately if they see this insect.
On June 14, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services alerted the public to the threat of the kissing bug, specifically the Eastern blood-sucking conenose variation of the creature. Kissing bugs are just under an inch long and can be identified by their signature black, flattened bodies, and the reddish-orange marks on the sides of their abdomen.
Officials in the state say that if you see a kissing bug, you should try to catch it. And if you believe someone was bitten by one, you can contact the DHHS Vector-Borne Disease Program. But Nebraska isn't the only state plagued by these nefarious bugs. Those who live elsewhere should contact their state's department of health services if they have a kissing bug encounter.
The reason kissing bugs pose a threat to humans is because more than half of them carry a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi), which can result in Chagas disease, a potentially fatal infection for both people and animals. While the majority of kissing bugs carry the parasite, infection is fairly uncommon, because transmission of Chagas disease is only passed on through defecation. "Some kinds of kissing bugs poop while they are feeding; if a person scratches the kissing bug feces into the bite, then the person can get sick," according to the experts at Texas A&M University. "The parasite can also enter the body through the mouth or eye if someone touches their mouth or eye with a dirty hand."
The statement from Nebraska's DHHS directs anyone who's seen kissing bugs in their home or thinks they may have been bitten by one to talk to their doctor about getting tested for Chagas disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 300,000 people in the U.S. have Chagas disease, and one in three of those people experience a heart attack, stroke, or sudden death due to the illness. The CDC estimates that Chagas disease is responsible for approximately 10,000 deaths per year worldwide.
The researchers at Texas A&M University report that 11 different types of kissing bugs have been found in the U.S. Read on for a full list of states where this dangerous critter has been found.