Once you find out that kissing bugs are not only real or cute and cuddly, you find out they are blood-sucking pests. The next question that everyone wants answered is, “Are kissing bugs dangerous?”
Even though these awful sounding bugs can fly and suck your blood, they aren’t inherently dangerous. They are small and require small amounts of blood to grow and develop.
The degree of threat from a kissing bug on its own depends on an individual’s reaction. Some people will react more severely to their bites than others. Besides a piercing mechanism piercing the skin, the primary irritant is the anesthetic type chemical that the kissing bug injects to stop from startling their host. Typical reactions will include swelling of the bite or surrounding areas and itchiness. In more severe reactions, individuals may experience anaphylactic reactions.
Most of the concern with kissing bugs comes from their poor “table-side” manners. These bugs are known for defecating where they eat. Yes, unfortunately you read that correctly. Hence, the threat in kissing bugs lies mostly in contaminating people with their feces. In some cases, the feces will get rubbed into bites, eyes, or other openings resulting in infection. It is not hard to imagine feces being a threat, but Kissing bugs fecal matter carries a specific pathogen of concern.
Chagas’ is the disease that has brought kissing bugs their infamy. The pathogen that causes Chagas’ is carried in the fecal droppings of 60% of the over 100 known species. Unfortunately, interruptions in feeding increase the chances of a bug defecating while eating. Interruptions could come from something as simple as someone rolling over in bed. The average person twitches and turns plenty to startle a dropping or two out of a feeding kissing bug.
Where they feed
Obtaining a blood meal can come from any part of the body, but since they tend to feed at night, people oftentimes have their bodies covered up to their necks. Since this leaves their faces exposed, kissing bugs will sometimes bite their hosts on or around their mouths. Hence, they earned the name kissing bug. The swelling is likely to occur in the face and other easy to access areas, but Chagas’ disease threatens the whole system.
Threats to pets
Many ectoparasistes are host specific, however the kissing bug is not. Iguanas, mice wild animals, domestic animals and many other vertebrates are just as attractive to these blood suckers as human blood. The protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi which causes Chagas’ disease in humans can also affect other animals such as a pet dog.
How to Protect yourself
Most kissing bugs are syllabic, so if you know you will be spending some time in a jungle with kissing bugs, bring some repellant. Protecting your home includes reducing rodent access to the home and surrounding areas since they are the most likely source for hitchhiking. Reducing clutter around the home and yard will both help with rodent prevention as well as minimize places that kissing bugs can hide and lay eggs. Finally, exclusion around the home will help keep them out.
If you find kissing bugs have joined you inside, several products are labeled for controlling them. Never hesitate to reach out to a pest professional for guidance or treatment in these situations.