A disease-carrying-blood-sucking insect known as a "kissing bug" has spread to 29 states, including the latest sighting in Delaware, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week.
The parents of a family in Delaware sought out the CDC in July 2018 to help identify a bug that had bitten their daughter while she was watching TV in her bedroom. The agency later identified the bug as Triatoma sanguisuga from a photo sent in by the family. It was the first reported in the state of Delaware, according to the CDC
Typically found in warm climates in Asia, Africa, Australia, Latin America and the southern United States, Triatomine bugs, also known as cone-nosed bugs, vampire bugs, assassin bugs and blood suckers, are about twice the size of a penny and gets its name for its propensity for biting humans on their faces and lips.
There is documentation of kissing bugs in many states in records dating to the 1800s, according to Texas A&M researchers. They are most common in the U.S. in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.
Mostly active at night, kissing bug feeds on blood of mammals, bird and reptiles. They live in a wide variety of environmental settings but typically in the proximity of an animal upon which they can feed, the CDC reports. They also can be found in wooded areas, beneath porches, under cement, between rocky structures, in outdoor dog houses or kennels, in rock, wood and brush piles or beneath bark.
The bug can transmit to parasite known as Trypanosoma cruzi, which can lead to Chagas disease, a parasitic illness that can cause serious cardiac and gastrointestinal complications, Jacqueline Petty of the CDC told weather.com.
While kissing bugs carrying Chagas disease is common in South and Central America, most types native to North America carry less risk of this disease, according to Western Exterminator
The first case of Chagas disease in the United States were reported in 1955, Petty said.
Roughly 300,000 people with Chagas disease live in the U.S. today, mostly contracted from the Triatoma cruzi variety of kissing bug and mostly after being infected while living or traveling to parts of Central and South America.
The disease is transmitted through the bug's feces. If it is defecates near an open bite, the infected faeces can then be accidentally rubbed into the open wound. It can also infect humans via mucus membranes, including the eyes, nose or mouth.
Very few cases of Chagas disease contracted after being bitten in the U.S. have been documented. The aforementioned Delaware girl did not develop any symptoms of the disease, the CDC reported.
Petty said the likelihood of contracting the disease, even after being bitten by an infected bug, is unlikely.
"There are some areas in the United States where some triatomines are infected, but in these areas, the likelihood of human Trypanosoma cruzi infection from contact with a triatomin bug in the United States is low," she told weather.com Early symptoms of Trypanosoma cruzi infection may include fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting. Since the symptoms mimic many other illnesses, it can be difficult to detect.
"If you have Chagas disease, consult your health-care provider. Or, find a physician familiar with diagnosis and treatment of Chagas disease and other parasitic infections, ask your general practitioner or primary care physician for a referral, "Petty said.
" You may also want to consider visiting a physician who specializes in infectious diseases. To locate a clinician in your area, please visit the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene's Clinical Consultants Directory, "she added.
Petty says preventive measures for travelers to Latin America include spraying infested dwellings with long-lasting insecticides, using bedding treated with long-lasting insecticides, wearing protective clothing and applying insect repellent to exposed skin. Food and beverage precautions and avoid consuming salads, uncooked vegetables, unpeeled fruits and unpasteurized fruit juices, "Petty added.
The CDC also recommends these precautions, which could limit exposure to humans and pets in the United States:
- Locate outdoor lights away from the home, dog kennels, chicken coops, and turn them off when not in
- Remove trash, wood and rock piles from around the home
- Clear out any bird and animal nests around the home
- Seal cracks and gaps around windows, air conditioners, wall, roofs, doors and crawl spaces
- Tightly seal chimney flues when not in use.
- Keep pets indoors at night and keep outdoor pet areas clean
- Consider having a licensed pest control professional inspect your home.
- Do not squish or touch a suspected triatomin bug.
- Instead, place it in a container and fill it with rubbing alcohol or freeze it before taking it to the health department.