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Kissing Bugs: Kiss Off!

Kissing Bugs (scientific name Triatomine Bug) are in the news these days. They get their name from the fact that they like to bite humans around the mouth and eyes—at night when they are enjoying a blood meal.  Not only is that not very romantic, it can be dangerous.  Kissing bugs can carry the parasite Trypanosoma Cruzi, which causes Chagas disease (named for its discoverer Carlos Chagas, a Brazilian physician and scientist).  In the acute phase Chagas disease symptoms are mild—fever, feeling ill, swelling near the bite site.  After a period of remission, which can be lengthy, there is a chronic phase in which symptoms can include serious heart problems.  A full list is here.  Fortunately there are both effective tests for diagnosing Chagas disease and effective treatments.

Kissing bugs are native to the Americas—North and South, but they've spread around the world.  They've been found in 28 states.  Here's a scary fact from a Kissing Bugs and Chagas Disease website maintained by Texas A&M University: "Estimates of human cases of Chagas disease in the US range from 300,000 to over 1 million, with particular concern for those living in the US/Mexico border regions.  Yikes.  We've all been worrying about bed bugs (scientific name Cimex Lectularius Linnaeus), which, unfortunately, have recently been found to carry Chagas disease as well. Both of these bloodsuckers bite—the ones from bed bugs itch, the ones from kissing bugs don't.  And getting rid of these unwanted pests requires a lot of work and often requires professional pest control.

Are Kissing Bugs found in Pennsylvania and New Jersey?  Yes.  Are there a lot of cases of Chagas disease in our region? No.  Is it possible that climate change will expand the range of Kissing bugs and Chagas disease (as well as other insect-borne diseases)? Yes.  So, where do you go to get more information? Here.

Read more about The Public's Health.