The “kissing bug” – which bites people around their mouth and can pass along the fatal disease Chagas – is making its way north.
In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the deadly bloodsuckers were on the move up from Central and South America and had been reported in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Since then, the CDC confirmed the bugs have been reported in Illinois.
In July, a family in Delaware called the Delaware Division of Public Health and Delaware Department of Agriculture because an insect had bitten their child’s face while she was watching TV in her bedroom.
The family lived in an older single-family home near a heavily wooded area, according to a CDC report. There was an air conditioner in the window of the girl’s bedroom and the family hadn’t traveled anywhere outside the local area.
Staff from the agriculture department preliminarily identified the insect as Triatoma sanguisuga, or the kissing bug.
They sent pictures of the insect to Texas A&M University’s Kissing Bug Citizen Science Program, a multidisciplinary research program aimed at documenting and collecting kissing bugs from across the United States.
The insect also was sent to the CDC, which did tests and confirmed their findings.
The girl who was bitten did not get sick, though the bugs can carry a deadly disease known as Chagas.
The silent danger
Doctors say the kissing bug is a silent killer.
While it sucks your blood, it defecates. In its feces is a parasite, which finds a home in your tissue, muscles and heart and leads to Chagas disease.
The disease can be fatal, though the chances of contracting it are low.
If a person contracts the disease, symptoms typically include severe redness, itching, swelling, welts and hives, CDC officials say. It can be spread from mother to baby, by blood transfusion and during organ transplants.
Most people only experience minor symptoms. But some, less than half, may develop the following:
• Irregular heartbeats that can cause sudden death
• An enlarged heart that doesn’t pump blood well
• Problems with digestion and bowel movement
• An increased chance of having a stroke
The CDC estimates that approximately 300,000 persons with Chagas disease live in the United States, and most were infected with the parasite T. cruzi in parts of Latin America where Chagas disease is found.
Only a few cases of Chagas disease caused by contact with the bugs have been documented in the United States.
For more information, go to www.cdc.gov/parasites/chagas or call 404-718-4745.
How to protect yourself
You can take precautions against the kissing bug. The CDC recommends locating outdoor lights away from dwellings such as homes, dog kennels and chicken coops and turning off lights that are not in use.
Homeowners also should remove trash, wood, and rock piles from around the home and clear out any bird and animal nests.
Cracks and gaps around windows, air conditioners, walls, roofs, doors and crawl spaces into the house should be inspected and sealed.
Chimney flues should be tightly closed when not in use and screens should be used on all doors and windows. Ideally, pets should sleep indoors, especially at night, and outdoor pet resting areas kept clean.
If you suspect you have Chagas disease, consult your health care provider.
How to tell if it’s a kissing bug
Adult kissing bugs range from about 0.75 to 1.25 inches in length. Most species have a very characteristic band around the edge of the body that is striped with orange or red markings.
One species (Triatoma protracta) may or may not have a single colored band around the outer edge of the body.
The legs of kissing bugs are long and thin. Unlike some other species, the legs are uniformly thin along the length of the leg, and there are no “bulging” thicker areas.
Kissing bugs have distinctive mouthparts that appear as a large black extension to the head. These mouthparts give rise to the nickname “cone-nose bug.’
There are 11 different species of kissing bugs in the United States. The most common species in the south-central United States are Triatoma sanguisuga and Triatoma gerstaeckeri, which are each about 1 inch long.
Read more at usatoday.com.