Go to home page
Go to insect index

The Kissing Bug
( Copyright 2011 Shawn Cole. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Cole Home Maintenance is an exterminator Located in Palatine and serving towns in
Lake County, Cook County, Mc Henry County, Du Page County, Kane County
$60.00 to spray up to a 2 bedroom apt for bed bugs

The Kissing Bug is the common name for a conenose that bites victims on the face and near the mouth in order to suck blood for a meal.  This bug is attracted to the carbon dioxide expelled by the victim while breathing.  It is also called the "Mexican Bed Bug", the "Wallapai Tier", "Cone-Nosed Bug", the "Sacred bed Bug", the "China Bed Bug", the "Assassin Bug", and in Latin America they are known as "Vichucas".    While bed bugs are also attracted to their victims by the carbon dioxide of the victim's breath, bed bugs will feast on any part of their victim's body and as is currently known, do not transmit any diseases or parasites. 

The Kissing Bug prefers to bite its sleeping victim near its mouth; thus the common name "Kissing Bug".  The actual word "bite" is used when refering to the Kissing Bug as well as the bed bug but neither has actual mouthparts that "bite".  They each have "sucking mouthparts", that first pierce the skin, insert a tube and "suck" your blood.  The Kissing Bug prefers to position itself next to its victim rather than walk on the victim's bare skin, leaving only the long proboscis (sucking mouthpart) in contact with the victim's skin.

The Kissing Bug is widely found in Central and South America but has been discovered in 2/3 of the southwestern states in recent years.  While this bug is not considered a common, widely spread bug, it is serious when discovered inside the apartment or home because it carries a parasite that causes the Chagas disease.  These bugs are more common in the southwwestern part of the U.S. where it is warm and does not have severe winters as we do here in northern Illinois.

It appears that the strains of the Kissing Bug found in Central and South America are much more virulent than those Kissing Bugs found in the southwsestern parts of the U.S.

How is Chagas Disease Spread?

Chagas disease is an infection caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi.  It is named after Carlos Chagas, a Brazilian physician who first described it in 1909.    The famous 19th century biologist Charles Darwin was attacked by what he described as a "great black bug of the Pampas" while he was in South America when he was young.  Darwin suffered the classic symptoms of the Chagas disease later in life.

It is estimated that 16 to 18 million people in Central and South America are infected with Chagas disease and 50,000 are dying each year of this disease.  This bug spreads the Chagas disease by first biting an infected person or animal and processing this parasite through its body and  into its feces.  The bug then  goes on to bite other people.  While feeding by sucking blood, the Kissing Bug deposits its  feces on the sleeping victim's skin.  Because the Kissing Bug prefers to bite its victim on the mouth, near the eyes and nose, the victim  rubs  that feces into his skin when scratching the bitten area, rubbing  feces into an open cut or into his eyes, nose or mouth while asleep.   The Kissing Bug prefers to bite the victim's face because it is sensitived to the odors mammals give off from skin, hair and various glands and especially the carbon dioxide expelled by the victim's nose and mouth.   This rubbing and scratching causes the parasite to enter the broken skin and cause  an infection.     Other methods of transmission include:

Recently in Brazil, health officials found a widespread outbreak where Chagas' disease was spread through contaminated food.  "Guarapa"  is a popular drink which uses sugar cane juice and is usually consumed fresh.  Twenty-five (25) people became  ill and three (3) died.  Reports were issued  throughout the world health organizations to warn that anybody who vacationed on the beaches of Brazil should see a doctor.  The source was traced to a single site in Brazil that used sugar cane contaminated with the Kissing Bug's feces. 

In this one situation, the effects of the infection were felt within days.   The Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases advises doctors to be aware that a patient may have  been bitten by the Kissing Bug.   People who are sensitive to the parasite  can have a severe allergic reaction that is as serious as any bee sting by people who are sensitized to  a bee sting.     Victims felt as if they had the flu including a fever, headache, muscle aches, vomiting and a mild rash.  Most of the time it takes years for the victim to know they are infected and by that time, there is extensive damage done to the body.  In the meantime, if the Kissing Bug bites these infected people, it will spread the parasite to newly bitten people.

When the Kissing Bug is discovered in your home or apartment:

That is Chagas Disease?

The symptoms of Chagas disease is usually mild or nonexistent.  Many people are infected in their home countries as children.  One-third of persons who get the infection live for 10 to 20 years -- not realizing they are lving with a chronic infection.  While there are drugs that will eliminate the infection in the veryearly stage, the drugs are not effective at curing the damage that has already been done over the years.

Two drugs, Benzonidazol made by Roche and Nifurtimox, made by Bayer are on the market but are only effective in the early acute stage.  Once the infection goes into the chronic stage, the drugs are ineffective.  The Chagas disease happens so infrequently in the U.S. that doctors are not accustomed to recognizing the early stage symptoms since they are so similar to the flu  or food poisoning.  Bite marks may be attributed to a spider or tick bite since the Kissing Bug is so rare in the U.S.

Only 1% of the population eperiences acute symptoms.  The initial symptoms are short lived and most infected people do not seek medical treatment.  The symptoms are not specific for a Chagas infection.  They include fatigue, fever and swollen lymph glands, loss of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting.  In a small amount of the population the victim  will suffer an acute   anaphylactic (allergic) reaction, with weakness, sweating, nausea, abominal cramping and vascular collapse.  Testing in countries where the Kissing Bug is common found that about 7% of the people tested have the potential for developing serious,  immediate sensitivity reactions including anaphylactic shock.

In most people, the symptoms dissipate after a few weeks and the victims think that they had a mild case of  food poisoning or a touch of the flu.  The victim no longer has any symptoms and it progresses into a chronic, undetected disease.  Ten (10) to twenty (20) years later, the damage is done and the person starts to experience altered heart rate or rhythm, heart failure or  cardiac arest, or the doctor discovers they have an enlarged heart.  At this point, drugs cannot repair the damage.  It has been silent for too many years.

Identification of the Kissing  Bug

Adults are 1/2 inch to 1 inch, brownish-black with a broad, flat stout body with 6 reddish-orange or yellow spots on each side ofhe abdomen, both above and below.  The head has 4 segmented antennae and a 3 segmented beak what extend backward below the body.  It has an elongated, cone-shaped head from whch it gets its name -- the "Conenose Bug".    The firstindication that the apartment or home has been invaded is when the victim awakens in the morning and finds engorged bugs in bed with him. 

How the Kissing Bug Biteds Its Victim

The Kissing Bug is a strong flyer and is attracted to the lights inside of a building.  Once they fly in through an open door or window, the Kissing Bug immediately finds a dark corner closet area or hide under furniture, or their favorite place -- under and betwen mattresses and blankets.  The Kissing Bug finds a host (victim) by detecting the carbon dioxide by a mammal breath, and the secretions from the glands and sweat from the person who had slept in that bed.    The Kissing Bug wants to feed and suck blood very close to the sleping victim's mouth and nose because it is especially attracted to the carbon dioxide being expelled .  The Kissing Bug will not bite through clothing or beding sheets and blankets.  It needs direct contact with the victim's skin.

The victim (host) does not feel the bite becaue the Kissing Bug has an anesthetic in its salivia.  Your household pet is often the victim of these bugs.  The Kissing Bug also deposit feces on the host's skin as it feeds.  The victim usually rubs the area of the bite, and rubs the feces into the mouth, eyes and any open cuts or abrasions from scratching the itching area  causing the parasites in the bug's feces to enter the host's body. 

The face is not the only place this bug will bite.  The small bites will usually disappear in 24 to 48 hours but larger bites can remain for a  week.  The bitten area will appear with a redness on the skin area, intense itching and/or swelling or itching of the extremities such as the soles of the feet or the palms of the hands.  There may be patches of itchy bites around your mouth.  The bites may swell and look like hives.

Treatment of Bites

Home treatment can help stop the itching and prevent an infection:

The Kissing Bug Life Cycle

The Kissing Bug usually lives in the holes of pack rats feeding on them or other outside mammals who burrow in the ground.  They also infect raccoons.  The Kissing Bugs are very good flyers that are attracted to the lights on the outside of the house and light coming from windows.  They will fly through the doorways and windows that  do not have screens to block them.  Once inside the apartment  or home, they will find a place to hide until they can find a meal of blood from household pets or sleeping  people.

The Kissing Bus usually sucks your blood for 15 minutes to 30 minutes.  The Kissing Bug takes up to 1 week to digest your blood.  This bug will not need to feed again for about 3 weeks if a source of food is not available after it digests its meal.  Thes bugs are capable of surviving for 3 to 6 months between meals if a blood meal source is scarce.

The Kissing Bug's life cycle  lasts about one (1) year, with the Kissing Bug hatching from the oval, pearly-white egg  into a nymph that goes through 5 molts to reach the adult stage.  Each molt will only take place after a blood meal.  A molt is when the insect sheds its exo-skeleton, and grows a larger exo-skeleton that is larger.

Eggs are usually laid from May to September and hatch in 3 to 5 weeks to release the first of the five (5) nymph stages.  Each molt stage can only take place after a blood meal.  The Kissing Bug over-winters as a nymph and molts into adults in the spring.  Adults can fly and are long-lived.

In the U.S. Kissing Bugs spend the greater part of their lives in the holes of pack rats -- not inside an apartment or home.  They feed on the mammals that live in holes in the ground, biting them  its blood meal.   They also live and bite racoons and other burrowing animals.   It is only in the summer that Kissing Bugs, who are strong fliers,  that can fly up to a 1/4 mile away seeking  new food sources, and will invade your home or apartment when attracted to the light by the door or the lights inside the rooms.   The adult then bites the sleeping victim and begins to lay eggs in crevices and cracks in the home.

Kissing Bug Managment

In the U.S., these bugs are not a serious problem as they are in South and Central America.  Pest Management Professionals are usually only called (mostly in the southwestern states) if the problem has become severe.    Even though these bugs, have spread into the U.S. recently, the northern states and not been documented as infeted with these pessts.  The following are steps that the building owner can perform to prevent the Kissing Bug from entering your building:
If you find that the foregoing methods are not working, and your home has somehow been infested with these bugs, please feel free to contact Cole Home Maintneance, a licensed pest management professional  for help.