Kissing Bugs Linked to Deadly Chagas Disease in U.S.

Every year, the hearts of millions of Central and South Americans are quietly damaged by parasites. During the night, insects called kissing bugs emerge by the hundreds from hiding places in people’s mud and stick homes to bite their sleeping victims. The bugs defecate near the punctured skin and wriggling wormlike parasites in this poop may enter the wound and head for their victims’ hearts. There, in about a third of victims, they damage the organs for decades before causing potentially lethal heart disease. Around 12,000 people worldwide die each year from the ailment, called Chagas disease.

Scientists thought Americans were safe in their sturdier houses. Now some are not so sure. Chagas-infected kissing bugs do enter at least some southern U.S. dwellings and bite people living there, recent studies suggest. And a new study published two weeks ago raises the specter of Chagas from another more familiar insect pest: bed bugs, found all over the country.

They’re called kissing bugs, but if you see one, it’s time to run!

These bugs have an otherwise cute name because they are capable of delivering the kiss of death. They may seem rather small and harmless, but these bugs can pack an unexpected punch if you find one in your home.

What makes these bugs extra creepy is that they’re attracted to carbon dioxide—what humans exhale. When they come out at night, they’re likely to be found on your face, nose, and mouth.

Just like vampires, they feed off of blood. They attack humans, dogs, cats, and livestock. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if you or your pets have been bitten because it’s most likely to happen while you’re asleep.

These bugs are dangerous because their bites open wounds on your body, and (warning, this is the grosses part!) they may defecate into the wound. If the bug is carrying a parasite, then this process can be fatal.

These bites can lead to Chagas disease, an inflammatory condition that can lead to heart and digestive issues.

Symptoms include: swelling, rash, fever, headaches, body aches, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. If left untreated, the symptoms can lead to irregular heartbeat, heart failure, enlarged esophagus, and an enlarged colon later in life.

These symptoms are common for many infections and diseases, so it’s important to recognize the bug and know if you and your family might be at risk.

The map shows where in the US these bugs have been found. Be on the lookout for these critters in your home.