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Kissing Bugs Emerge In Florida: Five Facts About the Romantic Insects and the Disease They Carry

Nov 26, 2015 10:52 PM EST

Kissing bugs, also known as assassin bugs, have spread to parts of Florida and other parts of the southern U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns. The tiny, blood-sucking insects are known to carry and transmit the potentially deadly Chagas disease.

The infected inch-long Triatoma rubida bugs carrying the parasite can pass it to humans through bites, from which the disease travels through a person's blood stream and to their heart and gastrointestinal system after the insects deposit their feces over the open bite wound. The insects are characterized by a orange or red band that runs along the edge of its body. 

According to the CDC, about eight million people are infected worldwide. Most of the infected are reportedly in Central and South America, Florida Today reports. When infected, the parasite can remain asymptomatic, or hidden, for years and even decades before heart disease-related problems arise.

In addition to Florida, the CDC reports Chagas infections have been documented in Arkansas, Arizona, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Texas. Here are five fast facts you may not have known about kissing bugs and the disease they sometimes spread.

1. The unromantic bugs are named for their favorite places to "kiss" people

Bites can typically be found around the mouth or face, and the bugs generally feed on blood during the night. In the U.S., there are a total of 11 different species of kissing bugs that have become widely established in 28 states. Kissing bugs are known to bite rodents, other wild mammals, domestic dogs, and humans.

2. The bugs may or may not carry the disease

On average, 50 percent of kissing bugs are infected with the Chagas parasite. Kissing bugs develop into adults after a series of five immature life stages called nymphs. However, both nymphs and adults engage in blood-feeding behavior. The Chagas parasites lives in the digestive tract of the bugs and are shed in the bug feces, which is how the disease is transmitted to humans. However, it is not easy for the parasite to be transmitted from bugs to humans. In fact, the likelihood of getting Chagas disease from a kissing bug in the U.S. is low, even if the bug is infected.

3. You don't necessarily have to be bitten to be infected with Chagas disease

Humans can also pass the disease from one person to another through organ transplants from an infected donor, blood transfusions and pregnancies. Additionally, humans can contract the disease by consuming foods and juices that have been contaminated with the kissing bug's feces.

4. Kissing bugs have a few favorite indoor and outdoor hiding spaces

The bugs prefer to live indoors, where they find comfort in cracks and holes in the walls and foundation of one's home. In terms of outdoors, the bugs often seek shelter beneath porches, between rocky structures, under cement, in a rodent's nest of animal burrow, and in rock, wood, brush piles, or beneath bark.

5. Do not touch or squash the bugs

Instead, the CDC recommends placing the bloodsuckers in a container and filling it with rubbing alcohol. If that is not an option, the contained bug can be taken to your local extension service, health department, or a university laboratory for species identification and examination. To err on the safe side, any material or surface that the bugs may have come in contact with also needs to be cleaned, preferably with a bleach and water solution.

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