Kissing bugs are a group of airborne insects that belong to the Triatoma genus of assassin bugs, and they are distributed throughout South America, Mexico and the southern half of the United States. Unlike many airborne insects, kissing bugs actively seek access into homes through windows, gaps below doors, attic vents, small crevices, cracks and other entry points on the exterior walls of homes. Historically, kissing bugs have been viewed as nuisance pests within US homes, but in South America and Mexico, several kissing bug species transmit a parasite, T. cruzi, to humans that results in chagas disease, which can be fatal. Although very few chagas disease cases have been reported as occurring in the US, recent studies indicate that the risk of contracting the disease from kissing bugs in the southern half of the country is greater than previously thought, and this is especially true in Arizona.
The US is home to 11 kissing bug species, 7 of which can be found in Arizona, and at least one of these species is known for transmitting chagas disease to humans in Mexico and South America. After kissing bugs suck human blood, they defecate near the small bite wound. The enzymes in kissing bug saliva causes the wound to itch. While itching the wound, bite victims often smear the bug’s feces into their wound. This causes the T. cruzi parasite in kissing bug feces to enter the bloodstream, resulting in chagas disease. Sustaining a bite from a kissing bug can also trigger a serious allergic reaction due to allergenic proteins found in the bug’s saliva.
Not long ago, a study was carried out that saw academic researchers collect kissing bugs from homes in Tucson. After analyzing the feces of all the kissing bug specimens collected, researchers discovered that more than 41 percent of them tested positive for the T. cruzi parasite. Studies in Phoenix and other metropolitan areas of Arizona yielded similar results. The disturbing results of this study mean that most southern Arizona residents live in homes that are occasionally invaded by disease-causing kissing bugs.
Are you concerned about kissing bugs in your home?