It’s not every day that you learn about something as scary as this turning up in your own backyard. Or, at least, the backyards of hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of Texans. Triatoma is a genus of bug collectively known as “kissing bugs.” They’ve been making the news quite a bit the past few summers because of one notable characteristic: they’re the leading cause of infection in humans and pets for Chagas Disease. This parasite-caused illness causes a whole host of horrible symptoms and, if untreated, can lead to death.
Texas A&M University researchers have established a research lab to track and study the spread of these bugs to try and contain any potential spread of Chagas. So far, the bugs don’t seem to be spreading. In fact, the recent spate of Chagas cases in Texas appears to be not due to any “foreign invasion” by the bugs, but an invasion of suburbia into the traditional territory of these blood-sucking insects.
TAMU researchers have since responded to hundreds of submissions by people up to several states away and have put up a helpful guide to non-kissing bugs that they frequently receive by photo or in the mail. These include leaf-footed, squash, and stink bugs, among others. All of these also belong to the “true bug” order and do bear some resemblance to kissing bugs, but with several easy-to-spot differences.
If you are pretty sure that you have been bitten by or have even spotted a kissing bug, there are a few simple steps before you overnight it to a research lab and run screaming to the hospital!
1. Avoid touching the insect with bare hands.
2. Trap the insect in a sealable plastic bag, film canister, or pill bottle.
3. Freeze the bug. This will kill it and also preserve it for study.
4. Disinfect any surface it has touched with bleach.
5. Take a good picture of the bug, and inspect it carefully to ensure it’s not something else.
6. Send the picture to TAMU with a message informing them of where/how you found it.
The reporting link is right here, but please follow the advice above before submitting. There is also a handy page full of other bugs that people frequently mistake for kissing bugs, so be sure to check it out as well!
We hope you won’t ever need any of this information, but it pays to be informed.
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