The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a potentially deadly insect known as the "kissing bug" has been sighted in every southern state, impacting more than half of the United States.
The bug, also known as the triatomine bug, has been reported in several states. The bugs typically feed on the blood of mammals, including humans and pets, biting them in the lip area.
"They're attracted to carbon dioxide, so when you're breathing at night they can crawl on your face, and they can bite you on the nose and mouth," said Derrick Mathias, Assistant Professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at Auburn University in an interview with WHNT News 19.
If the bug is infected with parasites and defecates in the wound, it can lead to Chagas disease, which can be fatal if not treated. Mathias was careful to say not every bug has the parasite in its gut, especially not the species native to Alabama. But there have been problems in Texas and parts of Central America. CDC officials tell WHNT News 19 the bugs have been found in the South since the 1850's, so it's not new that people report them here.
Still, it's important to be aware. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, rash, diarrhea, and vomiting. It can also cause heart failure and intestinal damage. Mathias said it can take years to realize you have the disease, but it is treatable.
If the bugs do get inside your home, they tend to hide in cracks or under beds and mattresses, including pet bedding, then come out at night, just like bed bugs.
"They normally feed on wildlife. Wood rats, possums, raccoons," said Mathias.
The kissing bugs have caused a public health problem in areas of Latin America, where the bugs nest in cracks of substandard housing. Officials estimate that 8 million people in Mexico, Central America, and South America have contracted the illness, and here in the U.S. up to 10 percent of dogs in shelters in southern Texas have tested positive for Chagas. The CDC reports that only 30 cases of the illness have been reported in the past 50 years, so it's rare to actually contract the disease.
To keep your home safe, the CDC recommends:
- sealing all cracks and gaps around windows, walls, roofs, and doors and screens
- checking in and around your pet's bedding
- removing wood, brush, and rock piles near your home
- turning off outdoor lights at night, which attract bugs.
Kissing bugs are hard to kill - typical bug sprays do not work. Mathias said you shouldn't try to squash them, either, just to stay on the safe side. Instead, trap the bug in a jar and drown it in rubbing alcohol or freeze it in water to kiss the kissing bug goodbye.