FAQYou Ask, We Answer

We receive many questions regarding the website and the program. Below you will find some of the most commonly asked questions and our answers to them.

What are kissing bugs?

Kissing bugs are insects that may be infected with Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease. They are commonly known as cone-nose bugs or chinches. Kissing bugs feed on blood during the night, and they are called kissing bugs because they prefer to bite humans around the mouth or eyes.

What do kissing bugs in the U.S. look like?

Adult kissing bugs range from about ¾ - 1 ¼ inches in length. Most species have a very characteristic band around the edge of the body that is striped with orange or red markings.

One species (Triatoma protracta) may or may not have a single colored band around the outer edge of the body. The legs of kissing bugs are long and thin. Unlike some other species, the legs are uniformly thin along the length of the leg, and there are no 'bulging' thicker areas on the legs. Kissing bugs have distinctive mouthparts that appear as a large black extension to the head. These mouthparts give rise to the nickname 'Cone-nose bug'.

There are 11 different species of kissing bugs in United States. The most common species in the south-central United States are Triatoma sanguisuga and Triatoma gerstaeckeri, which are each about 1 inch long.

Kissing bugs are members of the Reduviidae family of insects. Other reduviids that are similar in appearance (see examples at the 'non-kissing bug' page) feed on plants and other insects and can inflict a painful bite when disturbed, however only kissing bugs are known to transmit the Chagas parasite.

Kissing bugs develop onto adults after a series of immature life stages called nymphs, and both nymphs and adults engage in bloodfeeding behavior. Bugs feed on diverse wild and domestic animals including wild rodents, other wild mammals, and domestic dogs.

Where are kissing bugs found?

Kissing bugs are found throughout the Americas. In the US, kissing bugs are established in 28 states. A total of 11 different species of kissing bugs have been documented in the US, with the highest diversity and density in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Kissing bugs are not new to the United States. There is documentation of kissing bugs in many states in records in the mid 1800s.

What percent of kissing bugs carry the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi?

The parasite Trypanosoma cruzi can live in the digestive system of the kissing bug. Our research has found that over 50% of kissing bugs submitted by the public from across Texas are infected with the parasite that causes Chagas disease.

What should I do if I found a kissing bug?

Never touch a kissing bug with a bare hand. The parasite they may harbor can be transmitted to humans and other animals. If you see a bug you believe is a kissing bug and would like confirmation of the species identity and to submit it for testing, our lab accepts carefully obtained samples. A glove or small plastic bag may be used to catch the bug to avoid direct contact with the bug. The bug may be stored in a sealed plastic bag, in a vial, or other small container. All surfaces with which the bug came into contact should be thoroughly cleaned with a bleach solution.

Please complete the form with details of your encounter, including:

  • exactly where the bug was found
  • the date
  • the time of day
  • if the bug was alive when found
  • what the bug was doing

How can humans and animals acquire Chagas disease?

The insect vector, commonly known as the kissing bug, can transmit the parasite to hosts by biting and subsequently defecating near the site of the bite. Bugs can enter homes, hunting cabins, dog kennels, or other areas where they may find hosts on which to feed. Dogs can also become infected through the consumption of infected bugs. Additionally, the parasite can be transmitted congenitally, through blood transfusion, and through transplantation of infected organs.

What does a kissing bug bite feel like?

Since kissing bugs rely on blood meals to grow and develop, their bite must go relatively unnoticed by their blood meal sources. Most individuals report that kissing bug bites do not hurt.

What does a reaction to a kissing bug bite look like?

There is a not a 'typical' reaction, since individual immune systems vary. Reactions to kissing bug bites have been reported to vary from unnoticeable to anaphylactic shock. If you have concerns about a potential bite, you should seek medical attention from a medical professional. Professionals who need more information about Chagas disease in humans can contact their state health department or the Centers for Disease Control.

What should I do if I think I have been bitten by a kissing bug?

If you have concerns about a potential bite, you should seek medical attention from a medical professional . Professionals who need more information about Chagas disease in humans can contact their state health department or the Centers for Disease Control. If you have the kissing bug, we are able to accept a photo for identification. You and your physician may be able to find out more from your local or state health department, particularly if you are not from Texas. Texas residents who find bugs in their bedrooms or bugs that are believed to have bitten someone may be interested in submitting their bug to the Department of State Health Services for testing and follow-up.

Can other animals become infected with Trypanosoma cruzi?

Many of the species of animals upon which kissing bugs feed can serve as a source of parasite infection to the bug, and the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite has been found to infect domestic dogs, humans, opossums, woodrats, armadillos, coyotes, mice, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. Wildlife are responsible for maintaining this parasite in nature. Therefore, Chagas disease emerges at the intersection of wildlife, domestic animals, humans, and vector populations.

What is Chagas disease?

The parasite Trypanosoma cruzi causes Chagas disease in humans, dogs, and other mammals. In humans, Chagas disease manifests in two phases: acute phase and chronic phase. After becoming infected with the parasite, the acute phase can last for a few weeks or months. This phase can be symptom-free or difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are common for many types of sicknesses, including fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting. Of those who are infected with the parasite, approximately 30% are at risk of developing chronic Chagas disease. Chronic Chagas disease includes cardiac complications and/or intestinal complications, and these signs may not be apparent until decades after the initial infection. Cardiac signs include enlarged heart, heart failure, altered heart rate, and/or cardiac arrest. Intestinal signs include an enlarged esophagus or colon, which can cause difficulties with digestion. Concerned individuals should discuss testing options with their physicians. Treatment of Chagas disease can be difficult, and drugs are available only through the CDC after consultation with a physician.

(Photo: Center for Disease Control)

T. cruzi trypomastigote in a thin blood smear stained with Giemsa.

How does the kissing bug spread the parasite that causes Chagas disease?

The insect vector, commonly known as the kissing bug, can transmit the parasite to hosts by biting and subsequently defecating near the site of the bite. The parasites live in the digestive tract of the bugs and are shed in the bug feces. When infectious bug fecal material contaminates the mucous membranes or the site of bug bite on a mammal, transmission of the parasite can occur.

Where is Chagas disease found?

Chagas disease is endemic throughout central and South America, and is increasingly recognized as both a human and veterinary health concern in the southern United States. Chagas disease became a reportable disease in Texas in 2013. The public health burden of Chagas disease in the US is largely unknown, because most states are not required to keep track of the number of confirmed human cases. Estimates of human cases of Chagas disease in the US range from 300,000 to over 1 million, with particular concern for those living in the US/Mexico border regions. In addition to documented cases in immigrants who were infected in central and South America, there are increasing reports of human cases of Chagas disease acquired in the United States. The parasite that causes Chagas disease has been known in the U.S. since at least 1916.

How does Chagas disease affect dogs?

In dogs, infection with the Chagas parasite can cause severe heart disease, however many infected dogs may remain asymptomatic. There is variation in the degree of complications that likely relate to the age of the dog, the activity level of the dog, and the genetic strain of the parasite. Cardiac rhythm abnormalities and sudden death may occur, as well as ascites due to reduced cardiac function and inability to properly pump fluids throughout the body. Testing for canine Chagas disease is in the form of a blood test, and is available through the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory. Blood is screened for antibodies to the T. cruzi parasite, and a positive result indicates that the dog has been exposed at some time in past. Unfortunately, treatment options are not readily available, although some research teams are developing new treatment approaches that are promising. There is currently no vaccination that protects against Chagas disease for either dogs or humans.

Why are dogs at risk of being infected?

Dog kennels are environments that may be particularly suitable for the establishment of Chagas disease transmission cycles. High densities of dogs in confined areas are associated with heat and carbon dioxide that attract kissing bugs that seek bloodmeals. Furthermore, dogs may easily consume kissing bugs in kennels. Kissing bug control can be difficult in kennels, particularly in areas where human development is relatively recent and kennels are surrounded by natural habitats where wildlife occur. Adult kissing bugs engage in nocturnal flights to search for mates and mammals for blood-feeding. Because adult bugs fly towards lights, we recommend that lights be turned off at night around kennels. Some insecticides are effective against kissing bugs when sprayed around the kennel area. However, because kissing bugs can fly in from many yards away or from nearby wildlife habitats, new colonization of treated areas can easily occur.

How can I control kissing bugs around my property?

Dr. Michael Merchant of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service provides information on kissing bug control. Because adult bugs fly towards lights, we recommend that lights be turned off at night around houses and kennels. Some insecticides are effective against kissing bugs when sprayed around the kennel area. However, because kissing bugs can fly in from many yards away or from nearby wildlife habitats, new colonization of treated areas can easily occur.

How can I contact the Hamer Labs with more questions about kissing bugs?

Our email is: KissingBug[at]cvm.tamu.edu. We do our best to reply promptly, but response time varies given our obligations in the field and laboratory; please be patient!

ADDITIONAL RESOURCESLearn More

Informational pamphlet about kissing bugs

Informational pamphlet about canine Chagas disease

Short article about kissing bugs and canine Chagas disease

Human testing (Texas only) and bugs that have bitten human (Texas only)

CDC's Chagas disease website

CDC's kissing bug website

Kissing bug control and pesticide options

IFA testing for canine Chagas disease, TVMDL

Look-alike bugs that are not kissing bugs

General information about kissing bugs

Kissing bug identification

Links to state health departments