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 they are or what kind of threat they pose. Luckily for you, 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 and their killer kisses!
Are Kissing Bugs Dangerous?
Given the fact that kissing bugs have been making headlines these past few years, you might be wondering, are kissing bugs dangerous to you, your family, and your precious pets? The answer is complicated. Kissing bugs get their name from their tendency to suck blood from around the mouth and nose of humans, but the bites themselves are not necessarily dangerous—in fact, they generally are no worse than a mosquito or any other bloodsucking insect. Like with most insects, they can cause swelling and hives in individuals with allergies. However, one major danger that kissing bugs pose is the life-threatening illness Chagas Disease.
Kissing Bug vs. Assassin Bug
If the name kissing bug seems an odd choice for these dangerous, bloodsucking pests, you may find the name “assassin bug” to be a better fit. Although these names are often used interchangeably to refer to the Reduviidae family of insects, kissings bugs are best understood as a member of the assassin bug family, a family of insects consisting of over a hundred different species. Kissing bugs can be differentiated from other members of the assassin bug family based on their prey: unlike other species, kissing bugs prey on animals such as mammals, birds, and snakes rather than insects. Knowing how to identify different species of assassin bugs can help you determine whether you are at risk of being bitten or not:
Examples of assassin bugs that prey on insects alone include:
- Wheel bugs: This species, which will only inflict painful bites when provoked, can be easily identified by a wheel-shaped crest arising from the insect’s midsection.
- Milkweed bugs: This harmless species can be recognized by its distinct red and black markings which often appear diamond-shaped and its pointed body.
- Pale green assassin bugs: As its name implies, this species is a light green color with occasional red or brown markings on its back.
Unlike the species listed above, kissing bugs will not have a distinctive crest, diamond-shaped markings, or green coloring. Kissing bugs are mainly black or brown with small red, orange, or yellow stripes around the edges of their rounded body. They are also known for their cone-shaped heads and thin legs and antennae. Knowing how to tell the difference between kissings bugs and their less dangerous family members can help you stay safe from Chagas Disease.
What is Chagas Disease?
Kissing bugs can be a vector for Trypanosoma cruzi, a parasite which causes Chagas Disease. The insects pick up the parasite from an infected person or animal and then spread it through their feces, which can often infect a wound when they are feeding. It can be spread 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, swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite, and other common signs of illness, but as it progress it can lead to the following:
- Enlarged heart
- Heart failure
- Enlarged esophagus or colon
- And other cardiac or gastric difficulties
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 look at the image above to familiarize yourself with what kissing bugs look like, and have a plan for what to do if you think you’ve spotted one. (The CDC recommends if you do find one that you place 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, and 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.
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!
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. In general assassin bugs prefer warmer climates, closer to South America meaning the odds of encountering a species of assassin bug in Virginia, especially one that preys on humans and happens to be carrying the Chagas Disease, are low; however, it is important to keep your guard up when it comes to this risky family of insects.
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. 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.
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 mouth parts,
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! Our team 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!
While kissing bugs may not be as prevalent in Virginia as they are in other areas, it’s never a bad idea to be aware and do what you can to stay ahead of the curve. If you want some help keeping Virginia kissing bugs out of your home, give Getem a call today at 757-489-8610 to hear more about how our mosquito service is a great way to keep mosquitos, and kissing bugs, at bay!
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