Everyone knows about mosquitos, bed bugs and bees, but another insect is crawling its way through the USA: kissing bugs.

Kissing bugs, or more formally triatomine bugs, sound harmless or maybe even cute. But they are actually blood-sucking insects that feed on people and animals, usually when they are sleeping. Even worse, they can transmit a parasite that causes a disease.

The transmission of the parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi), and the disease it causes, Chagas disease, is spreading across the United States. As the bug feeds on your blood, it defecates. But that’s not when the parasite enters the body. It takes hold when the droppings are rubbed into the bite or into a mucous membrane, like the eye or inside the nose or mouth. Speaking of eyes, if the bug’s droppings make their way into the eye, a telltale sign, called a Romaña’s sign, forms. The eyelid may swell near the side of face by the bite wound.

Where the kissing bugs roam

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have tracked the spread of kissing bugs across the U.S., while formerly said to have only been in Texas, the bugs have now reached as far north as Pennsylvania, all of the American South and some of the Midwest, exposing a greater portion of the population to Chagas disease.

Luckily, the bugs seem to prefer outdoor environments, rather than inside. But that doesn’t mean that you should sleep easy. They can crawl through cracks in doors or windows and enter a dwelling. So, seal cracks in entryways, windows and walls; do the same for the attic and crawl space as well.

Another way to help prevent the bugs from getting in is by not giving them a place to hide in or near your house. Remove nearby wood, brush and rocks, and keep your house clean. Also position lights outside of the home so they are not near the structure itself; lights may draw insects to them, acting as a big, flashing neon sign for kissing bugs.

Also keep your furry friends safe, let pets sleep indoors, especially at night, as animals can contract the parasite as well.

Kiss and tell

If you’ve been infected with the parasite T. cruzi, in the first few weeks, you may experience no or mild symptoms. But both the acute and chronic phases of the disease can be either harmless or life threatening, according to the CDC. Acute symptoms include fever, fatigue, body aches, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting. These are all symptoms common with other ailments, but the telltale signs that a doctor may notice are mild enlargement of the liver or spleen, swollen glands or swelling at the site of the bite.

Chronic symptoms are more severe. A portion of infected people, 20 to 30%, develop some of the following: cardiac arrest, heart failure, an enlarged heart, altered heart rate or rhythm, enlarged esophagus or an enlarged colon.

There is some good news: not every kissing bug carries the parasite. And transmission rates are low in the U.S. According to CDC Parasitic Diseases Expert, Dr. Sue Montgomery, “Since 1955, there have been fewer than 50 documented cases of people who have acquired the parasite from exposure to the triatomine in the U.S.”

So while the chances are low, be on the lookout as this little bug can cause a serious disease.

SafeBee Top Three

  1. Secure your home against infiltration by sealing cracks in doors, walls and windows. Also, move lights away from the house as bugs are attracted to them.
  2. Be on the lookout for symptoms. If you think you’ve been infected, see a doctor.
  3. Animals are susceptible to Chagas disease as well. Let them sleep inside to keep them away from kissing bugs.