While their scientific name is triatominae, they are commonly called “kissing bugs” because they bite people on the face and feed around their mouths. They carry a parasite known as Trypanosoma cruzi. When they feed on an infected person, animal, or basically any organism, they pick up this parasite. This parasite then resides in the kissing bug’s gut and faeces.
Read More: 15 Easy Ways to Treat Bug Bites in Children
In this article:
Kissing Bug Bites: Symptoms, Risks, Treatment & Prevention
If these infected faeces come in internal bodily contact, one will be afflicted with an infection known as Chagas disease. Kissing bugs come out at night to feed. In most cases, the person is resting and the bite doesn’t leave a visible impact. In fact, it is possible you won’t even be aware of the fact that you have been bitten.
Kissing bugs bite by forcing saliva into the epidermis that has anaesthetic properties. They usually take somewhere between 20 minutes to half an hour to feed. They may bite anywhere from a mere two to a whopping 15 times.
Kissing Bug Bite Symptoms
The initial few weeks after the bite from the acute phase. Usually, there are no symptoms as such, maybe just very mild flu-like indicators. These can include body aches, a rash on the bite area, swollen glands, and fever. These signs are a response to a large number of parasites that are now in the bloodstream.
After the acute phase comes the chronic phase. This is when the indicators subside even without treatment as the parasites in the bloodstream decrease in number. However, the parasite still resides in the body, it’s just that there aren’t any more symptoms. For now.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 20 to 30 percent of patients who are afflicted with Chagas disease have certain symptoms 10 to 25 years later. These are severe and can potentially be fatal in nature. They are:
- inconsistent heart rhythms that can lead to an abrupt death
- an enlarged heart (cardiomyopathy)
- a dilated colon (megacolon) and esophagus (megaesophagus)
If the infection is treated early, the chronic phase can be evaded. It’s crucial to search for treatment quickly if you suspect that you have had a kissing bug bite you. This is because there is no cure for Chagas disease once it enters the chronic phase.
Kissing Bug Bites Risks
There are many risks of kissing bug bites:
Serious Allergic Reactions
Anaphylaxis can occur after being bitten. This is an abrupt allergic reaction that is life-threatening in nature. It can make breathing difficult and even lowers blood pressure to critical levels. Such reactions need instant treatment.
Chagas disease is endemic to Central America, South America, and Mexico. Up to eight million people in these regions are afflicted by the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It is estimated that over 300,000 people have the parasite in the United States alone. Most people that are affected by Chagas disease in the United States were infected in the aforementioned endemic areas.
Chagas disease is a severe consequence of a kissing bug bite. However, not everyone bitten by kissing bugs gets the disease. This happens only if infected feces from the parasite get inside your body.
Kissing Bug Bites Treatment
If you are diagnosed with Chagas disease, you will be typically prescribed antiparasitic medicines such as nifurtimox and benznidazole. Neither are easily available at pharmacies and the like:
- Nifurtimox: This is not an FDA-approved drug. It can be procured from the CDC as investigational medication.
- Benznidazole: This is FDA-approved medication for children aged 2 to 12. While it is not available in US pharmacies, it can be obtained by licensed medical professionals directly from the manufacturer’s website.
Antiparasitic medication is administered to anyone in the acute phase so as to eliminate the parasites and prevent the condition from becoming chronic. However, it is sometimes given to patients in the chronic phase as well.
While no medications can cure Chagas disease after it enters the chronic phase, there is a likelihood of such medications of slowing disease progression and assisting in avoiding potentially fatal complications. People in the chronic phase who should be treated are:
- anyone under 18 years of age
- anyone under 50 years of age who doesn’t have an enlarged heart, i.e. advanced cardiomyopathy
When to Seek Medical Help?
You should seek medical assistance if you:
- live in southern USA, Mexico, Central America, or South America and have grouped insect bite marks on your body, particularly your face
- have spotted kissing bugs at home
- have symptoms that could be because of Chagas disease
Kissing Bug Bites Prevention
During the daytime, kissing bugs usually lodge themselves in straw and mud. These substances are frequently used to construct houses in the endemic areas of South America, Mexico, and Latin America. Avoid napping in houses/structures made of these materials when visiting these areas. If you do have to be inside such structures, please take the measures below:
- Encircle your bed with insecticide-coated netting
- Disperse insecticides to eliminate the bugs in the vicinity
- Apply bug spray multiple times on a daily basis
If you reside in the southern United States and catch sight of kissing bugs:
- Secure cracks and crevices with a silicone-based caulk
- Mend holes and other damages in window screens
- Do away with debris and/or leaves within 20 feet of the home
- Keep pets indoors to prevent bugs bites at night and passing on the virus to people
- Clean surfaces with an insecticidal solution or bleach
A professional exterminator can eliminate kissing bugs if you have sighted them in your home. If you suspect you have kissing bugs in the home, try to catch them while donning gloves or at least with a container.