Kissing Bugs In Texas Raise Concerns About Chagas Disease

The number of kissing bugs in Texas has increased steadily in recent years. As a result, residents are concerned about a rare but serious illness called Chagas disease. Worldwide, an estimated 6 million to 7 million people have been infected with the potentially life-threatening illness. Although a majority of the infections are reported in Latin America, it has begun to spread to other areas, including the United States.

Chagas disease is spread by the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite, which is often present in the feces and urine of triatomine bugs. Although they are known by several different names, triatomines are most commonly referred to as kissing bugs.

Kissing bugs are elongated insects, which feed solely on the blood of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles. Although they are most common in Central and South America, they have spread into North America, including the Southern United States, in recent years.

In Texas and the rest of the Southern United States, health officials have confirmed the presence of 11 different species of triatomines.

In most cases, kissing bugs are found nesting in brush, rock, and wood piles. They are also drawn to pens where animals sleep. In the United States, kissing bugs are rarely found inside homes due to common building codes and standards. However, they are likely to find their way inside structures that are in disrepair.

In the United States, there are no pesticides specifically labeled for use against kissing bugs. However, infestations can be prevented by using screens on doors and windows, sealing cracks in doors, foundations, and roofs, and keeping brush, wood, and rock piles away from the house.

As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kissing bugs resemble a number of other insects, including wheel bugs, western corsair bugs, and leaf-footed bugs. People who believe they have spotted a kissing bug are encouraged to carefully capture it and take it to the health department for positive identification.

Although rare in the United States, Chagas disease can be deadly. According to Texas A&M University’s Department of Agriculture and Life Science, complications related to Chagas disease, which can include serious damage to the colon, esophagus, and the heart, may not appear for “decades after the initial infection.”

The number of kissing bugs in Texas varies widely by county. Within the last year, more than 200 kissing bugs were verified in Brewster, Medina, Hays, and Hildago Counties. The pests are also prominent in Blanco and Frio Counties.

[Featured Image by Glass and Nature/Shutterstock]