Can Kissing Bugs Give You Chagas’ Disease?
Habits, Habitat and Threats of Kissing Bugs
I often hear people that are dealing with bed bugs comment, “At least they can’t fly. Wouldn’t that be awful?!” Unfortunately, even though bed bugs can’t fly, there is another ectoparasite that can. The conenose bug a.k.a. the kissing bug is an avid flyer and bloodsucker.
Kissing bugs sound like something cute, cuddly and romantic, but that is far from the truth. These bugs won this name through nefarious habits that we will explore.
Kissing bugs are obligatory blood feeders. This means that they cannot decide to gnaw on a walnut or suck the juice from a peach. They require blood meals to grow and reproduce. Unlike mosquitoes, which only have females feeding to reproduce, both sexes feed on blood. In fact, all stages after egg need blood meals.
Obtaining a blood meal can come from any part of the body, but the face is more common. Since they tend to feed at night, people oftentimes cover their bodies up to their necks. Exposed faces invite kissing bugs to bite their hosts on or around their mouths. Hence, they earned the name kissing bug.
Some kissing bugs are intermittent feeders. Others may feed for 20-30 minutes at a time. These feed at night and tend to hide and rest during the day. As evening approaches, they may use their strong wings to fly towards lights. Because of their strong flying ability, they can quickly find their way from rodent or domestic hosts to human dwellings.
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 bloodsuckers as human blood. While this may seem like a good thing, it really isn’t. It simply allows them to expand to new sites with greater ease.
When these 6-legged terrors aren’t resting in cracks and crevices or sucking animals dry, they may also be laying eggs in protected crevices. Some species will lay them in large clumps while others will lay them singly making them harder to detect.
Originally kissing bugs were sylvatic, but domestication occurred with increased human interaction. Domesticated kissing bugs are the conenose bugs of importance. Repellants are an effective defense against the ones hanging out in the jungle.
Domesticated animal dwellings are a major habitat of kissing bugs. Because these habitats allow rodents to find food and shelter and go unnoticed, it is easy for kissing bugs to go extend their host. Even though they are likely to start out on a rodent, kissing bugs are just as happy to feed on the blood of an iguana, chicken, cow, dog, or other local animal.
Once kissing bugs become established in one of these dwellings, it isn’t long before lights from human dwellings will draw them into a home. Wood, rock and other similar piles commonly found around houses will give place for shelter and egg laying until the bugs figure out a scrumptious blood meal awaits them inside. They only need 1/4 “ gap to find their way in, so most homes are easy access for them.
While the thought of something feeding on our blood is disconcerting, the actual feeding of the bug itself is not much of a threat. Although, some people will react more severely to their bites, most of the concern comes from the poor table side manners of the bugs.
Kissing bugs are known for defecating where they eat. Hence, the threat in kissing bugs lies more with contaminating people with their feces. In some cases, the feces will get rubbed into bites, eyes, or other openings resulting in infection, swelling, itchiness, dizziness, and nausea. In more severe reactions, individuals may experience anaphylactic reactions.
Chagas’ is the disease that 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 that could come from something as simple as someone rolling over in bed increases the chances of a bug defecating while eating. It could be said that it scares the Chagas’ out of them.