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“Kissing Bugs” Carrying Potentially Fatal Disease Reported in Florida

December 03, 2015

The Centers for Disease and Prevention is warning residents in the southern United States that deadly “kissing bugs” have invaded the region.

Triatomine bugs, called kissing bugs because they leave bites around the mouth and face, carry a parasite that causes Chagas Disease, which can hide in the body for years and potentially lead to heart disease.

The bugs are about one inch long and resemble beetles and wheel bugs, which often make them more difficult to spot. Not all kissing bugs carry Chagas Disease, but those that do can infect someone if they defecate on or near that person when they leave a bite. When the bug’s feces gets into a bite wound, the eyes or mouth, the parasite enters the body, leading to the development of Chagas Disease.

The CDC says 8 million people worldwide are infected with Chagas Disease. However, most of them are in Central and South America. So far Arkansas, Arizona, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Texas have reported cases. No cases have been reported in Florida yet, but since kissing bugs are common in this region of the country, it’s important for everyone to be aware of the risks.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

Kissing bugs live in cracks and holes. You also can find them beneath porches, between rocky structures, under cement, in brush piles and in outdoor dog houses, kennels or chicken coops. Putting plaster over cracks and screens over windows and doors can prevent an invasion of kissing bugs. You also should remove wood and rock piles, keep the areas your pet sleeps in as clean as possible and regularly check these areas for bugs. Since kissing bugs are nocturnal animals, it’s best to have your pets sleep in the house at night to reduce the risk of infection.

Kissing bugs also cause allergic reactions in some people, which can lead to swelling, bruising, hives and anaphylactic shock in severe cases. An allergic reaction doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been infected with the parasite, but you should see a doctor if you are concerned about infection.

If you think your home has a kissing bug infestation, call a pest control company immediately. The company can tell you whether the insects are in fact kissing bugs and can take steps to eliminate the infestation and keep it from spreading.