Kissing Bugs in Virginia
Dec 21, 2015
Kissing Bugs on a leaf

Despite their sweet-sounding name, most people know kissing bugs as deadly pests that are a growing threat in the United States. With their name only hitting the presses a couple of times over the past couple of years, it's understandable why most people don't have a good grasp on exactly what kissing bugs are or what kind of threat they pose. Though it should be noted that finding kissing bugs in Virginia is not common—in fact, there has only ever been one reported case of a kissing bug sighting in VA.

But to help you stay vigilant, our experts have been keeping up with this elusive pest and have the low-down on exactly how to protect your home from kissing bugs!

What Do Kissing Bugs Look Like?

Adult kissing bugs are small, winged insects that are about 1/2 to 3/4 inches long. They are mainly black or brown with small red, orange, or yellow stripes around the edges of their rounded body. They have a flattened body, which is wider at the back than the front. Kissing bugs have narrow heads with long, thin antennae and legs. They can be found in the southern and western United States, Mexico, and parts of Central and South America.

Are Kissing Bugs Dangerous?

While kissing bugs are named for their feeding habit, in which they bite animals or humans around the mouth or nose and suck their blood, their bites themselves are not necessarily dangerous—in fact, they generally are no worse than a mosquito or any other bloodsucking insect. Kissing bugs pose a danger as they may defecate near the wound, which can transmit a dangerous parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi. This parasite can cause Chagas disease, which is a serious illness that can be life-threatening if left untreated.

What Is Chagas Disease?

Once transmitted, Chagas disease can be spread from human to human by blood transfusions and organ transplants, and women who are pregnant when infected can pass it on to their unborn children. Chagas disease begins with fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite, and other common signs of illness, but as it progresses it can lead to the following:

  • Enlarged heart
  • Heart failure
  • Enlarged esophagus or colon
  • And other cardiac or gastric difficulties

If you do get infected, there are treatments. Although there are currently no drugs or vaccines to prevent contracting Chagas, there are antiparasitic treatments available that have been shown to be effective in treating it, especially with early diagnosis. That makes being aware of early symptoms like fever, fatigue, body aches, or a swollen eyelid even more important!

Kissing Bug vs. Assassin Bug

Kissing bugs are part of the Reduviidae family of insects, also known as the assassin bug family, which consists of over a hundred different species. Kissing bugs differentiate themselves from other members of the assassin bug family with a few key differences: 

  • Kissing bugs get their name from their habit of biting people around the mouth, though they also feed on mammals, birds, and snakes. These bites can be painful and can sometimes cause allergic reactions. Kissing bugs can also transmit a dangerous disease called Chagas disease.
  • Other assassin bugs, on the other hand, do not bite people. They are actually beneficial insects because they help to control pests like aphids and whiteflies. Assassin bugs will often suck the blood of other insects, but they are not known to transmit any diseases.

Are There Kissing Bugs in Virginia?

No, kissing bugs are not common in Virginia. Currently, one of the only recorded occurrences of a kissing bug encounter was in Fredericksburg, VA. Even more importantly, reports of Chagas infections in our area are almost non-existent. Though media outlets have reported that there are over 300,000 confirmed cases of Chagas disease in the US, what they're not telling you is that almost all of the reported cases were contracted in Latin America and then brought back to the United States post-infection. That means that while staying alert is important, the current threat level is fairly minimal in our area.

How To Prevent Kissing Bug Bites

There are a few things you can do to prevent kissing bug bites.

  • Avoid spending time outside at night when these bugs are most active. If you must be outdoors, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants to protect your skin.
  • You can also use insect repellent on exposed skin.
  • Make sure to seal any openings in your home, such as cracks and gaps around doors and windows, to prevent bugs from coming inside. If you follow these steps, you should be able to avoid becoming a victim of these blood-sucking pests.

How To Prevent Chagas Disease

There are easy things you can do to prevent getting infected. Currently, the CDC is focusing preventative efforts on stopping the spread of Chagas, but there are also some easy ways that you can work to prevent your family from being affected by vector transmission. Knowing what kissing bugs look like is a great first step so you can properly deal with any pests located on your property.

  • Be sure to familiarize yourself with what kissing bugs look like, and have a plan for what to do if you think you've spotted one. Infectious disease specialists recommend if you do find one that you place it in a small container filled with rubbing alcohol to submit for identification!
  • You should also avoid raccoon, possum, skunk, and other wildlife nests as that is where you are most likely to come in contact with the kissing bugs infected excrement
  • If you do come into contact with wildlife feces, avoid touching your eyes or any open wounds until you've had a chance to thoroughly wash your hands. 

Kissing Bug Bit Treatment

If you are bitten by a kissing bug, it is important to clean the wound site thoroughly with soap and water. You should also apply an antiseptic to the area to help prevent infection. If you experience skin irritation, an anti-itch cream, such as calamine lotion, can be applied. In case of a more severe allergic reaction, contact a healthcare provider, who may treat it with antihistamines and corticosteroids.

If you develop any symptoms of Chagas disease, such as fever, rash, or swelling around the bite site, you should see a doctor immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment of Chagas disease are essential for preventing serious health complications.

How to Get Rid of Kissing Bugs

The best way to get rid of kissing bugs is to keep them from ever getting in your home in the first place! Because these insects lay their eggs in tight spaces such as cracks and crevices, you should avoid leaving piles of wood or stones around your yard. You should also make sure to do exclusion work on your home, including the following: 

  • Fixing holes in screens.
  • Sealing gaps around windows or doors.
  • Replacing weather strips.

Some claim that bug zappers and diatomaceous earth are possible DIY treatments for kissing bugs, but as with any infestation, home remedies are not always guaranteed to work. Because kissing bugs are a relatively recent threat to the United States, there aren't any commercially available insecticides to help keep them at bay. That makes asking for expert help a great way to help pest-proof your yard and protect your family from kissing bugs in Virginia!

Call The Professionals

Our team of pest exterminators in Norfolk, VA has lots of experience dealing with tough-to-treat critters, sealing hard-to-spot entry cracks, recommending environmental alterations, and doing everything we can to keep your family happy and healthy! Contact us today for a free inspection.

Where Do Kissing Bugs Live?

Usually, kissing bugs are found in the southern states, Mexico, Central and South America, and other warmer climates. While kissing bugs have been found in Virginia, these instances have been few and far between. 

Do Kissing Bugs Fly?

While kissing bugs do not have wings when they first emerge, they grow wings as adults and can fly. Other identifying features of kissing bugs include their dark coloration, the red, yellow, or tan striping visible on their legs and body, and their oval bodies and prominent mouthparts.

Are Assassin Bugs in Virginia?

Although there are indeed over 50 types of assassin bugs common to Virginia, the good news is that the majority of Virginia assassin bugs are harmless. Wheel bugs and milkweed bugs are two of the most common assassin bugs in Virginia, whereas the more dangerous ambush bugs and kissing bugs are less commonly found.

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