A serious insect invasion is currently spreading across the country, and states in the south are among the most heavily impacted. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released alerts warning people across the U.S. of the potential danger posed by “kissing bugs”.
Here is the essential information that Alabama residents need to know to keep themselves and their homes protected.
What Are Kissing Bugs?
Kissing bugs are a group of 11 insect species known as triatomines. These insects feed off the blood of mammals and behave in a very similar manner to bed bugs.
Triatomines get into homes through cracks and openings. Typically they hide in bedding and under mattresses, including pet beds. They become active at night and feed on animals or people while they are sleeping.
The bugs are very identifiable due to their unique appearance. They look similar to cockroaches but have very bulbous backend body segments. They also have an elongated, cone-like nose. Adult kissing bugs are roughly 1” long and will have a red border around the body.
How They Harm People and Pets
Kissing bugs have gotten their nickname because they often bite people and animals on or near the lips. However, it is not the bite itself that’s harmful. If the bug is infected with the parasite Trypanosomacruzi it can spread a disease known as Chagas disease if the bug defecates in the open wound.
The thought alone of an insect defecated into a mouth wound is bad enough, but the illness that can follow is far worse. The transmission of the disease is not easy, but when it does occur it can be deadly if left untreated. Studies have shown that Chagas disease results in 1 out of every 900-4,000 kissing bug contacts.
Kissing bug infestations have caused recent health concerns in Mexico and Central America. Problems have also been reported in Texas animal shelters where 10% of dogs were diagnosed with Chagas.
Symptoms of Chagas Disease
Due to the potential risk for Alabama residents it is important to know the symptoms of Chagas disease. They are:
- Body aches
- Loss of appetite
The symptoms can be very similar to more common illnesses such as food poisoning and the flu. However, 20-30% of cases result in chronic problems that can persist for years. If the disease is left untreated it can lead to intestinal damage and even heart failure.
How to Prevent Kissing Bug Infestations
It’s important for people to be proactive and watch out for kissing bug activity. Though the bugs can be resistant to some pesticides regular pest control treatments can help spot a problem. Our experts suggest that Alabama residents:
- Seal up all cracks and crevices that can allow kissing bugs to enter a home.
- Clear out debris and keep yards well maintained.
- Remove wood and rock piles that are near the home.
- Repair holes in window and door screens.
- Regularly check bedding, including pet beds.
Because Chagas disease is spread through fecal matter you should not squash kissing bugs. Instead the CDC says that people should try to capture the bug and kill it by freezing it or drowning it in alcohol. They are also encouraging people to bring the dead bugs to local CDC centers so that the exact species can be determined and recorded.