Home Pests: Beware the Kissing Bug
Just when we thought we had enough to worry about, a new pest is invading our homes. Triatoma Rubida, aka the Kissing Bug, wasn't even a blip on the North American radar in years past, but lately it has become a common, though unwelcome, resident in southern and southwestern portions of the United States. While its name sounds innocent enough, the kissing bug is one pest you hope never invades your home. Its kiss could be the kiss of death. The kissing bug's usual home is the nest of packrats, but will invade your home if given the opportunity. Unfortunately, most people will get rid of rats in their area, but forget to remove the rat's nest and do a thorough search for a kissing bug population. If there is a bug colony and the packrats are removed, the bugs will simply find another host. Most often that host will be you and your family.
The Kissing Bug
The kissing bug lives on blood and was formerly most often found in cracks and holes in substandard housing in Mexico and South and Central America. Today it is still rare in the eastern states, but is becoming more and more prevalent. If it were just a blood meal this bug was after, it would be considered a parasite or pest. But additional problems arise when the kissing bug bites someone with a disease called Chagas Disease, which is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. After the bug has bitten someone with the disease, they now carry the disease. Chagas Disease is then passed on to every human or animal the kissing bug bites. And since about 300,000 people in the United States are thought to be infected with Chagas disease, the chances of a kissing bug coming into contact with an infected person and spreading the disease is great.
Chagas disease is named for the Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas, who discovered it in 1909. The disease is spread when the infected kissing bug's fecal matter is rubbed into an open wound. Unfortunately, when an individual gets bitten their immediate reaction is to scratch the site. When they do, they unwittingly spread the infection into their bloodstream. (Chagas disease can also be spread through blood transfusions, organ transplantation, and from mother to child.) When infected with Chagas disease the patient may or may not exhibit initial symptoms in the early stages. Initial symptoms or flu like symptoms can last for 4-8 weeks, at which time the patient gets better and the disease moves into its indeterminate phase. The indeterminate phase can last for decades. Many people have no idea they've been infected with this disease. About 20-40 percent of those infected with Chagas disease will either die from cardiac issues or gastrointestinal problems such as dilated colon or dilated esophagus.
Getting Rid of the Kissing Bug
As you would with any insect infestation, attempt to discover where the pests are coming from (in this case, old nests and nooks and crannies in the house). The kissing bug can grow up to three quarters of an inch in length, and has well developed wings. Its color is generally dark brown or black, and the head is a cone shape with a beak projecting from the end. It is important to destroy as many of the insects as you can, and to wash all bedding in hot water. Air out items that are not washable, or consider sealing them up to try starving out the insects. Be extremely cautious of synthetic pesticides, and never use them on people or bedding.