Bad news, America. The kissing bug, a sometimes-deadly parasite originally from South and Central America, is heading north again.
Confirmed by the CDC, the Kissing Bug (properly known as a Triatomine Bug) has been methodically making its way more and more northward in the continental U.S. since it was introduced into Texas in 2013. It has now been identified as far north as northern California and Delaware.
What is the Kissing Bug?
Triatomine bugs are a type of reduviid bug. They can carry a nasty parasite, the Trypanosoma cruzi, that’s known to transmit the deadly Chagas disease. Kissing bugs are so called because they like to bite near the moist, open parts of the body, like the mouth or nose. Adult kissing bugs are about penny-sized and brown with an orange stripe around their body.
What is Chagas Disease?
Chagas disease is transmitted through Kissing Bugs’ feces, or in the case of pets, by eating the bug itself. Once infected, a person or pet may or may not show any outward symptoms, but the infection can be life-long and can eventually have ill-effects. Around 300,000 Americans are already living with the disease.
If your pet does contract Chagas disease from a Kissing Bug, symptoms may appear. They might include fatigue, fever, aching pain, rash, diarrhea, or vomiting. There’s also a high likelihood your pet won’t show any signs at all.
So, Chagas Disease is Dangerous?
Very. Dogs with untreated Chagas Disease have been known to face heart complications years down the road. There is a lot of variation in how severe related issues become among dogs affected because of factors like the dog’s age, her size, and the specific genetic strain of the parasite itself.
How Do I Know if My Dog Has Chagas Disease?
Since so many dogs affected by the disease don’t show any symptoms, it can be difficult to detect. Unless you have reason to believe your pet has been exposed to Kissing Bugs, you probably don’t need to worry. If you would like to have your pet tested, indirect fluorescent antibody (IFA) blood testing will look for antibodies to the T. cruzi parasite, which is an indicator that your dog has been infected at some point in time.
How Can I Protect My Dog From Chagas Disease?
There is currently no vaccine available to protect against Chagas Disease. The best way to keep your dog from contracting the illness is to keep her away from Kissing Bugs. Boarding kennels, particularly those located near heavily wooded areas, are prime breeding grounds for Kissing Bugs. If you live in a state where they’re common, consider the risk.
You should take care to make your home and yard as inhospitable to Kissing Bugs as possible. Don’t leave outside lights on at night (Kissing Bugs are nocturnal) and be sure to properly seal up doors and windows to prevent intrusion. When the pests are found indoors, they’re often found near where pets or people sleep or in tandem with a rodent infestation, so stay alert.
Outdoor pets who live in states where Kissing Bugs are present should sleep indoors at night when possible to avoid unintended contact.
Questions about Chagas Disease?
Talk to your vet.