Friday, October 26, 2012

An unwelcome kiss

Adult kissing bugs are 1/2 to 1 inch-long, dark in color with
reddish to yellow bands on the edges of the abdomen, and
a cone-shaped head.  They are common throughout Texas
(and many other states), especially in southern parts of the state.
Their natural hosts include wild rodents.
One of the potentially more serious, yet poorly recognized, indoor biting insects in Texas is the cone-nosed bug, or kissing bug, Triatoma species.

Kissing bugs are so-called because of their habit of biting people (and other animals) at night, often around the face or lips.  The bite can be extremely itchy.  The worst part, however, is that there is a relatively small risk (in the U.S.) that these bugs could transmit a parasite-caused disease called Chagas.

I have blogged previously about kissing bugs and Chagas disease, and have advised that there really was no place to report these bugs to, or any place to have them sent for testing.  That's changed recently, however, thanks to a Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) website and new DNA diagnostic tests for the pathogen.

The new website and testing service is available online. The site allows any Texas resident to send Triatome (kissing) bugs in for identification and analysis for the Chagas parasite at no charge.  Preference in testing will be given to bugs that have been documented as feeding on people.  There are limited resources for testing bugs collected as a curiosity, so those submissions may not be tested for months, or ever.

There is a downside to this new service, though.  Just because a Triatome bug collected from a home turns out to be carrying the Trypanosome (Chagas) parasite does not mean that people in the infested home are at high risk of the disease.  The low rate of Chagas disease in Texas suggests that the kissing bugs in Texas are not very good at transmitting the disease--at least to people (dogs are another story).  That's good news. The bad news is that it may be difficult to convince your customers that having inch-long, disease-infested, blood sucking bugs in their home is nothing to worry about.

In any case, should you catch one or more of these insects in a customer's home, it's good to know that there is some place you can turn for more information.  Thanks to Wizzie Brown for alerting us to the availability of this new resource.

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