CDC confirms case of blood-sucking 'kissing bug' confirmed in Delaware

The bug can cause a rare parasitic disease that can lead to heart failure.

April 24, 2019, 2:45 PM

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed a 2018 case in which a blood-sucking insect known as a "kissing bug" bit a child in the face.

In July 2018, the family requested help from the Delaware Division of Public Health and the Delaware Department of Agriculture to identify an insect that had bitten their daughter's face while she was watching television in her bedroom at night because they were "concerned about possible disease transmission from the insect," the CDC announced last week.

The family, who lives in an older home in a heavily wooded area in Kent County, said at the time they had not recently traveled outside the area, and a window air conditioning unit was located in the girl's bedroom, according to the CDC.

Delaware officials preliminarily identified the insect as the "blood-sucking" kissing bug, or Triatoma sanguisuga, which feeds on animals and humans and have a habit of biting humans in the face, according to the CDC. Texas A&M University's Kissing Bug Citizen Science Program, a research program that documents and collects kissing bugs from across the U.S., identified the insect through a photograph.

The bug was also sent to the CDC, which then confirmed that the species was present in Delaware. Previously, a report of a suspected kissing bug in Kent County was sent to Texas A&M, which confirmed the bug via photograph, but a local institution in Delaware had initially identified the insect as a milkweed bug instead and destroyed the evidence before the university could examine it for further confirmation, according to the CDC.

The bug can transmit a parasite known as Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes a disease known as Chagas.

About 300,000 in the U.S. and 8 million people in Central and South America are living with Chagas, but only a few cases of the disease caused by contact with the kissing bug have been documented, according to the CDC. The rare parasitic disease can lead to heart failure or stroke, but the parasite can hide in the body for decades and most people who are infected do not develop any signs or symptoms.

Initial symptoms may include fever, fatigue, body aches, headache and rash, as well as local swelling where the bite occurred and the parasite entered the body. It is treated with an anti-trypanosomal medication, which is only available through the CDC.

The girl who was bitten in 2018 did not suffer any effects, according to the CDC.

To prevent infestation by the kissing bug, the CDC advises homeowners to place outdoor lights away from the home, dog kennels and chicken coops and to turn them off when they are not in use. Homeowners should also remove trash, wood and rock piles away from the home, clear out any bird and animal nests near the home and consider consulting a licensed pest control professional. In addition, cracks and gaps around windows, air conditions, walls, roofs, doors and crawl spaces should be inspected and sealed, chimney flues should be tightly closed when not in use and screens should be placed on all doors and windows.

The CDC also suggests that pets sleep indoors, especially at night, and that all pet resting areas be kept clean.