The discovery of a species of kissing bug in Nebraska has prompted state and University of Nebraska officials to alert the public to the risks posed by the bugs.
The Eastern blood-sucking conenose species first was detected in Nebraska last summer by entomologists from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and University of Nebraska-Lincoln Department of Entomology.
“Kissing bug” is the common name for a group of bugs called triatomines. They are blood-sucking insects that are found across the Southern United States, Mexico, and Central and South America, especially during the summer months.
The main risk associated with kissing bugs is the presence of a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi for short) that lives in the bug’s intestines and is shed in feces. This parasite can cause Chagas disease in the people and animals it infects, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said Monday.
Although infections from the parasite are not common, about 25% of people who are infected develop serious chronic disease, so early diagnosis is important.
Infections from the Eastern blood-sucking conenose are even rarer and the risk of infection in Nebraska is considered to be very low. However, some of the collected kissing bugs were tested for the presence of T. cruzi, with several testing positive for the parasite.
According to HHS, kissing bugs can live indoors; in cracks and holes of houses; and in a variety of outdoor settings including beneath porches; between rocky structures; under cement; in rock, wood, brush piles; beneath bark; in rodent nests or animal burrows; in outdoor doghouses or kennels; and in chicken coops or houses. They are mostly nocturnal, and often are attracted to lights such as porch lights. Their bite often is painless and usually occurs when a person is still or asleep.
Anyone who has seen kissing bugs in their home or who thinks they may have been bitten by one should talk to their doctor about getting tested for Chagas disease, HHS officials said.