You’re out one night sitting on your new back porch and enjoying the stars when you notice a strange-looking bug with a cone-shaped head. Curious, you trap it in a jar and show it to neighbors the next day. Their eyes immediately widen, and they tell you that you need to watch out–it’s a kissing bug.
Kissing Bug in Texas: Friend or Foe?
Slightly amused, you ask what that is, even making a joke that it sounds kind of cute. After hearing their answer, you no longer feel that way.
What is a Kissing Bug, Anyways?
If you don’t know what a kissing bug is, you should. Despite the friendly-sounding name, this small insect is a potential disease carrier, and it can pose a threat to you, your family and your pets.
Not convinced? Perhaps you’d be more inclined to agree with us if we used the bug’s other nickname–the assassin bug. Sounds a bit more serious, right? The kissing bug belongs to the family Reduviidae. It is a winged, blood-sucking insect, active at nighttime. Three species of kissing bug live in Texas, and including their legs, they are roughly the size of a quarter. They are black or brown with stripes on their abdomen.
Kissing bugs earned their nickname because they bite people or animals near the mouth or eyes to feed on blood. When they bite you, they put you at risk for disease. A parasite which lives in their feces may spread the Chagas disease. If their feces gets inside an open wound, such as when you are scratching the bite, you are at risk of contracting the disease.
These insects may inhabit places around your home. They like to live beneath porches and near cement. You may also find them in any wood piles and in outdoor pet kennels. If you have wild animal burrows in your yard, kissing bugs may be found there too. They are most commonly spotted in southern states near the U.S. and Mexican border, including right here in Texas.
What Should You Do If You Get Bitten?
If you have kissing bug bites, don’t panic. A low percentage of people who are bitten contract the disease. Keep the infected area clean and dry until it heals. If your children are bitten, try to keep them from scratching their kissing bug bites. See your physician if you are concerned about whether or not the bite is infected.
If you do contract the disease, it may lie dormant for years before it manifests. According to the CDC, only 20-30% of infected people will face chronic disease or severe health problems from Chagas. Rare symptoms may include heart inflammation and irregular heartbeat and inflammation of the digestive tract, which may become life-threatening.
If your dog contracts the disease, it manifests in similar ways. Pets may experience immediate heart problems and inflammation, or the disease may lay dormant for years. Symptoms will be similar to humans who suffer with severe health problems resulting from Chagas.
How Can You Keep Kissing Bugs Away?
Since there is no vaccination for either humans or pets against the Chagas disease, the best thing you can do is keep your distance. What steps can you take for prevention?
First, make sure your home is well-sealed. Look for cracks and gaps along your home’s exterior and fill them with caulk. Since kissing bugs like to gather near piles of food or debris, make sure to remove them from around your home. It’s also smart to use screens on windows and doors if you’re letting the fresh air inside. Make sure to wash your bedding linens on a regular schedule so none of these insects slip between your sheets.
Second, inspect your pet’s bedding area, especially if you have a dog who stays outside. Wash the bedding on a regular basis with hot water and soap. Regularly clean the doghouse or kennel, and don’t keep dog food out for long periods. If possible, keep your dog inside at night, since kissing bugs are nocturnal insects. These bugs are attracted to lights, so if your outside lights are close to your home or kennel, make sure the lights are turned off at night.
ABC Can Take Care of Your Pest Problems
If you find an infestation of kissing bugs, first confirm that what you’re seeing is a kissing bug. There is a significant number of kissing bug lookalikes. Trust the professionals at ABC Home & Commercial Services to help you identify any of your uninvited guests and implement a plan to get them off your property—for good.