Officials ask Nebraskans to look out for kissing bugs
LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Last summer, a species of kissing bug was identified for the first time in the state by entomologists from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) and University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Department of Entomology.
“Kissing bug” is the common name for a group of bugs called triatomines. They are blood-sucking insects commonly found in the Southern United States, Mexico, Central, and South America during warm weather months.
The kissing bug species in Nebraska has been identified as the Eastern blood-sucking conenose. It is about ¾ inches long with a blackish, flattened, and elongated body. Six reddish-orange markings can be found on the sides of the abdomen.
The main risk associated with kissing bugs isn’t the bugs themselves, but a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi) that some carry. The parasite can cause Chagas disease in people and animals.
Chagas disease, or American trypanosomiasis, is a potentially deadly disease spread through the feces of an infected kissing bug. When the bugs bite a host, it may defecate near the wound. If the feces are rubbed into the wound or around the eyes or nose, you could become infected.
Within the first two weeks of infection, many people experience fever or swelling around the bite site, if any symptoms at all.
Following this acute phase, it can become a chronic infection. During this phase, usually no symptoms present. Many people will live unaware they are infected. However, about 20-30% off those infected will go on to developed severe and sometimes life-threatening medical issues.
These issues could include:
- Heart rhythm abnormalities that can cause sudden death
- A dilated heart that doesn’t pump blood well
Infections from this parasite are not common, but if it does happen there are treatments. If you’ve had contact with a kissing bug or think you may have Chagas disease, reach out to your healthcare provider.
These bugs can live indoors in cracks and holes or a variety of outdoor settings:
- Beneath porches
- Between rocky structures
- Under cement
- In rock, wood, brush piles, or beneath bark
- In rodent nests or animal burrows
- In outdoor dog houses or kennels
- In chicken coops or houses
If you catch a bug that looks like a kissing bug, get it tested for the parasite (especially if you suspect it has bitten someone).
Call the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Vector-Borne Disease Program at 402-471-2937 and they will accept kissing bugs for identification.
If a kissing bug is found and not suspected of biting someone, call 402-472-8691 to have it sent to UNL’s Insect Diagnostician.