It is well known that stinging insects, such as bees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets, cause severe allergic reactions in some people who sustain their stings. It is also well known that non-stinging insects can cause significant harm or even death via their bites. The most obvious examples are mosquitoes, as they transmit a host of diseases, and ticks, which, like mosquitoes and bed bugs, feed on blood. But ticks are technically arachnids, not insects. In rare cases, blood feeding arthropods, like bed bugs and ticks, can trigger an allergic reaction in a human by transmitting their saliva into the bloodstream while feeding. When it comes to allergic reactions caused by blood-feeding insects, kissing bugs are, by far, the most dangerous.
While kissing bugs cause severe allergic reactions that can lead to anaphylaxis in sensitive individuals, these insects are more well known for their ability to transmit chagas disease. However, chagas disease is only spread by South American kissing bug species, as very few chagas transmission cases have been recorded within the United States. The habitat of kissing bugs in the US covers the lower two thirds of the country, but the rate of allergic reactions caused by kissing bug bites is highest within the foothills region of Tucson. One study found that seven percent of residents from one small community in Santa Barbara County in California developed a sensitivity to the effects of kissing bug bites due to having sustained repeated bites over time. Despite the high kissing bug population in southern California, the state of Arizona sees the greatest number of medical complications resulting from kissing bug bites, particularly in Tucson. One reason as to why allergic reactions to kissing bug bites are highest in Tucson is due to the particular species found in the area. This species is known as T. rubida, while the California species is known at T. protracta. Unfortunately, during the spring and early summer, both of these species disperse and often enter people’s homes in order to feed on human blood. These invasions are particularly problematic within homes located in the Tucson foothills.
Have you ever found a kissing bug feeding on your blood?