Disease Spread by ‘Kissing Bug’ More Deadly Than Thought — 11 Tips to Avoid It

A triatomine bug, also known as the kissing bug, can transmit the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi to humans. The parasite causes Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis.
Photo by schlyx / Shutterstock.com

A disease spread by an insect that is now found in most U.S. states is more deadly than previously thought, new research shows.

Chagas disease, also known as “American trypanosomiasis,” is caused by a parasite (Trypanosoma cruzi) that can be transmitted to people by a triatomine bug (in photo at top of page) that is carrying the parasite, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Chagas disease also can be transmitted other ways, such as through blood transfusions and by eating contaminated uncooked food.

Someone with Chagas disease can be without symptoms for decades — the disease is sometimes called a “silent killer.” But if Chagas disease goes untreated, the infection “is lifelong and can be life-threatening,” the CDC says. The most serious symptoms can include cardiac complications, including heart attacks, and intestinal complications.

Even when someone with Chagas disease is without symptoms, however, their risk of death is more than double that of someone who does not have Chagas, according to a study recently published in the PLOS journal Neglected Tropical Diseases.

The lead study author, Ligia Capuani of the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil) School of Medicine’s Department of Infectious Diseases, tells CNN:

“In every age category, people who had Chagas died more than people who didn’t have Chagas. So if you’re infected early in life, you should be treated.”

Another study released this month found that 1.24 percent of Latin American-born residents of Los Angeles County have Chagas disease. That translates to more than 30,000 people in that county. The CDC estimates that 300,000 people in the U.S. are infected with the disease.

That study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, was coordinated by the Center of Excellence for Chagas Disease at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center. It has been described as the first large-scale survey of the disease in the U.S.

Avoiding the ‘kissing bug’

Triatomine bugs are blood-sucking insects also known as “kissing bugs” because they bite people’s faces. The bugs, which are about 1 inch in length, are found only in the Americas, from South America to the Southern United States, according to the CDC.

Indoors, they live in cracks and holes of substandard housing. The CDC notes the bugs are primarily found in rural, poverty-stricken parts of Latin America.

Outdoors, the bugs can be found in various settings, such as under porches and concrete.

Not all triatomine bugs are infected with the parasite that causes Chagas disease, however, and contact with one does not necessarily lead to infection. So the CDC considers the likelihood of catching Chagas disease from a triatomine bug in the U.S. to be “low, even if the bug is infected.”

Still, there are steps you can take to decrease your odds of contact with a triatomine bug abroad or at home.

If you plan to travel to rural Latin America, know that there is no vaccine for preventing Chagas disease yet. But for travelers who sleep in well-built structures, such as an air-conditioned or screened hotel room, the risk of exposure to infected bugs is low.

For travelers who stay in poorly built dwellings, the CDC says preventative measures include:

  1. Spraying infested dwellings with residual-action insecticides
  2. Using bed nets treated with long-lasting insecticides
  3. Wearing protective clothing
  4. Applying insect repellent to exposed skin

To prevent triatomine bug infestations at home, the CDC says measures include:

  1. Sealing cracks and gaps around windows, walls, roofs and doors
  2. Removing wood, brush and rock piles near your house
  3. Using screens on doors and windows and repairing any holes or tears
  4. If possible, making sure yard lights are not close to your house (lights can attract the bugs)
  5. Sealing holes and cracks leading to the attic, crawl spaces below the house and to the outside
  6. Having pets sleep indoors, especially at night
  7. Keeping your house and any outdoor pet resting areas clean, in addition to periodically checking both areas for the presence of bugs

What’s your take on this news? Sound off below or on Facebook.

How to find cheaper car insurance in minutes

Getting a better deal on car insurance doesn't have to be hard. You can have The Zebra, an insurance comparison site compare quotes in just a few minutes and find you the best rates. Consumers save an average of $368 per year, according to the site, so if you're ready to secure your new rate, get started now.

Read Next
3 Costly Social Security Mistakes That Women Make
3 Costly Social Security Mistakes That Women Make

Women face unique challenges when planning for retirement and making these mistakes can result in a skimpier retirement.

3 Ways to Get Paid for Searching the Web
3 Ways to Get Paid for Searching the Web

If you’re already doing it anyway, why not get rewarded for it? Here are three great opportunities.

9 Ways to Boost Your Home’s Curb Appeal for Less Than $50
9 Ways to Boost Your Home’s Curb Appeal for Less Than $50

These products will instantly improve your home’s curb appeal without breaking the bank.

5 Upgrades That Help Seniors Grow Old in Their Own Homes
5 Upgrades That Help Seniors Grow Old in Their Own Homes

Are you planning to “age in place”? These safety-conscious home renovations can help.

12 Expenses You May Be Tempted to Claim as Tax Deductions — but Shouldn’t
12 Expenses You May Be Tempted to Claim as Tax Deductions — but Shouldn’t

Thinking of trying to deduct a few of these things on your federal tax return? That could be a costly mistake.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
Will I Get My Ex-Husband’s Social Security When He Dies?
Will I Get My Ex-Husband’s Social Security When He Dies?

Two factors determine how much money is coming to you.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

21 Things You Should Always Buy at a Dollar Store
21 Things You Should Always Buy at a Dollar Store

Dollar stores have great bargains on these familiar purchases.

5 Household Disinfectants That Can Destroy the Coronavirus
5 Household Disinfectants That Can Destroy the Coronavirus

You likely already have some of these products at home.

6 Reasons I Will Never Trust Suze Orman
6 Reasons I Will Never Trust Suze Orman

Beware: The self-proclaimed personal finance expert has a track record that suggests more sizzle than steak.

20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling
20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling

You probably don’t need a year’s supply of toilet paper to survive an outbreak, but consider stocking up on these items.

America’s Most Reliable Appliance Brand Is a Surprise
America’s Most Reliable Appliance Brand Is a Surprise

Have you heard of this appliance manufacturer?

This Type of Social Security Benefit Is Often Overlooked
This Type of Social Security Benefit Is Often Overlooked

The Social Security Administration is not helping certain people get money to which they are entitled, a report says.

Getting These 2 Shots Could Reduce Your Risk of Dementia
Getting These 2 Shots Could Reduce Your Risk of Dementia

These vaccines may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 40%.

16 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
16 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

9 Everyday Problems You Can Solve With Vaseline
9 Everyday Problems You Can Solve With Vaseline

Forget expensive specialty products. Good ol’ petroleum jelly can address many common annoyances.

10 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
10 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are all steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

19 Purchases That Buyers Almost Always Regret
19 Purchases That Buyers Almost Always Regret

Think twice before buying these things.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

7 Tips for Building an Emergency Stockpile
7 Tips for Building an Emergency Stockpile

A pandemic or natural disaster could leave you reliant on your existing food supply. Is your pantry prepared?

8 of the Worst Things to Buy at a Dollar Store
8 of the Worst Things to Buy at a Dollar Store

Not everything sold at dollar stores is a great bargain or a safe purchase. Here’s our list of products to avoid.

8 Things That Are Free in August
8 Things That Are Free in August

As summer enters the home stretch, we’ve rounded up these sizzling freebies.

41 Things You Should Never Buy
41 Things You Should Never Buy

Some purchases are just plain dumb. Give yourself — and your budget — a break. Don’t spend money on this stuff.

Homeowners Say These 2 Kitchen Appliance Brands Are Best
Homeowners Say These 2 Kitchen Appliance Brands Are Best

One brand takes five of the top honors, while another ranks highest in three categories.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.