Kissing Bug, Insect That Carries Parasite, Reported in Florida

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So, a one-inch bug that bites you in the face while you sleep has been spotted in Florida. And it carries a potentially deadly parasite that causes heart disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the insect, known as the "kissing bug,"  has been spotted in several southern states, with sightings being reported in Arizona, Arkansas, Texas, and now, Florida. In all, 28 states have reported kissing bug sightings, according to the CDC.

The insect, known as the Triatomine bug, is only about an inch long but carries the Chagas disease and can pass along the parasite through bites. Once the Chagas parasite is inside the body, the CDC says, it can remain hidden for years, eventually giving the infected person heart disease. 

The insect is known as "kissing bugs" because they tend to bite a person's face, particularly around the eyes and mouth. 

The CDC says the Chagas disease is carried in the kissing bug's feces. The bug, which feeds on the blood of animals and, sometimes, humans, defecates as it feeds on of near the animal or person. Transmission of the Chagas disease occurs when fecal material gets rubbed into the bite wound or, in some cases, into the eyes or mouth.  

The CDC estimates that about 8 million people are infected with the parasite worldwide, with the majority of those infections happening in Central and South America. There is no current data on how many are infected in the United States. The disease is not spread from person to person and can be transmitted only through an open wound or scratch via the kissing bug. 

Florida Department of Health spokesperson Mara Gambineri says there have been no cases of Chagas disease reported in Florida.

The CDC does say that it's rare for a human to get the disease from a kissing bug. In fact, the likelihood of getting the disease from a kissing bug is low even if the bug is infected. But the CDC issued a warning so that people are aware and become vigilant.

About one case of Chagas for every 900 to 4,000 has come from being bitten by the bug.

What people should know about the bug is that it is primarily nocturnal and generally found beneath porches, under cement, and in rock piles, brush piles, wood, and beneath bark. The bugs can also be found in rodent nests, animal burrows, doghouses, and chicken coops. In Central and South America, the bug has been reported to be found in the cracks and holes of substandard homes. Some have been known to burrow under mattresses of these homes.

The kissing bug rarely infests inside homes, so the CDC says it's a good idea to seal any cracks or holes found on the outside of houses, including crawl spaces below the home. Additionally, the CDC says removing wood, brush, and rock piles near your home is good prevention, as is making sure yard lights are not close to your home. Pets should be kept indoors, especially at night.

The CDC says if you happen to run into a kissing bug to not kill it by stepping on it. Ideally, they'd like anyone who finds a bug to place a container on top of it and then fill the container with rubbing alcohol, or freezing the container with the bug in it. The CDC says if a bug is found, contact its Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria at parasites@cdc.gov.  

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