Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi and spread by the kissing bug. This little bug has been in the news a lot lately. Chagas disease is NOT transmitted through the bite of the kissing bug, but actually through the bug’s feces that might be left on a person and then accidentally scratched into their skin or wound. Because most kissing bugs don’t stay on people long enough to leave behind feces, Chagas infections are pretty rare. Kissing bug bites can, however, cause serious allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to the bug’s saliva. These reactions are unrelated to Chagas disease.
Most people who have been infected with the parasite do not have any symptoms. The signs of Chagas disease occur in about 30% of infected people and can take many years to develop —sometimes 10 to over 30 years. Illness caused by Chagas disease usually involves the heart, including irregular heart rhythm, an enlarged heart, or heart failure. These can become life-long conditions. Dogs can also develop Chagas disease if exposed to kissing bugs.
Kissing bugs have been found in at least 28 states in the U.S. and in Latin American countries. While the type of kissing bug capable of spreading Chagas disease is found throughout Arizona, the few human cases of Chagas disease identified here were all reported from travel to areas outside of the U.S. where the disease is known to be present. Although the risk for Chagas disease in Arizona is low, people who live in rural areas where kissing bugs may be active can prevent bug bites by keeping wood piles away from homes and ensuring screens are intact on windows and doors.
Thank you for sharing about the disease. They are dangerous for humans!
is there another way to dissociate chagas bugs from our house? maybe we can use natural ingredients or something, it’s really scary if had bite from them.
Thanks for the question! In addition to making sure there aren’t gaps in windows, doors, or walls where bugs can enter, you can make sure woodpiles are kept a safe distance from the home. If you have seen kissing bugs inside your home we would suggest working with a professional pest control agency to get rid of bugs inside your home safely.
Hello Dr – are you able to provide any suggestions re: who can treat/screen for the disease? I have symptoms and we have found a bug in our bed.
Please advise – thanks a million.
i found a kissing bug jammed in my door frame, it is possible it has been there for sometime should i call a doctor and get tested, turn the bug in what should i do if anything? I have small children and worry that if they were infected how to differentiate the difference between common illness and chagas disease.
Thank you for your question. Trypanosoma cruzi, the causative agent of Chagas’ disease has been known to exist in Arizona’s kissing bug populations since the late 1930s, however there have never been any reported cases of Chagas contracted in Arizona. Research has demonstrated that the species of kissing bug here in Arizona are poor transmitters of the disease.
If you are having kissing bug problems, we recommend contacting a pest control company to assess the situation to determine whether home treatment is necessary.
Can you contract the disease through squishing kissing bugs between your fingers?
Thank you for your question. Yes, a person can contract Chagas disease by squishing kissing bugs between their fingers or a similar act (for example, stepping on it) if two specific conditions are met. 1) The bug must be infectious with Chagas disease. 2) The person must have cuts , lesions, or other open skin on the surface of their body that comes into contact with the squished bug. It is also possible be become infected with Chagas disease by digesting infectious bugs or through blood transfusions or tissue transplants from someone who was infected.
I found a bite on my lip one morning and two days later found a kissing blood. When I killed it, there was blood. Where can I send the kissing bug to have it tested? I heard a lady in Texas got bit and she mailed it to the Health Department to have it tested. How much would it cost?
Sorry to hear about your bite. Unfortunately our state public health lab is not able to offer private testing of kissing bugs here in Arizona. If you are seeing evidence of kissing bugs or other insects in your house it might be worthwhile to have a commercial pest control company come to your place of residence to inspect it and make recommendations. In addition, while the risk of contracting Chagas’ disease from a kissing bug is low we recommend that if you do start to have any symptoms to visit your healthcare provider.
I have seen a marked increase in the amounts of these bugs invading our area just North of Sky Harbor Airport for the past couple of years. Is there anyone currently doing research on these bugs or this disease that I can provide live samples to?
Arizona Gardener Ed
Thank you for reaching out to us! Currently, Texas A&M University is receiving and testing kissing bugs for surveillance and research purposes. You can e-mail [email protected] to coordinate sending the bugs to them. They can also help confirm the identification of the bugs. If the bugs have bitten someone and the person is ill, it is recommended that the kissing bugs are sent to CDC for testing instead since they test for diagnostic purposes. If that is the case, please contact your county health department (azhealth.gov/localhealth) and they can discuss the situation and coordinate with us to send the samples to CDC as appropriate.