One Of The World's Deadliest Insects Is Found All Over Texas & It Wants To 'Kiss' You

It might poop on you, too.

Texas Staff Writer
A kissing bug on bark. Right: A kissing bug.

A kissing bug on bark. Right: A kissing bug.

The Lone Star State is home to some pretty gnarly creatures like giant killer hornets and venomous "blue dragons," to name a few.

However, most of them aren't quite as deadly as one tiny insect that calls Texas home, and it's just waiting to give you a kiss.

Kissing bugs, or Triatomine bugs, are looking for just one thing: blood. The way these insects satiate themselves is by "kissing" (i.e., sucking blood from the area around the mouth of) a host, which is typically an animal or human, according to scientists at Texas A&M University (TAMU).

However, their seemingly innocent "kiss" has turned out to be rather dangerous because, according to TAMU, about 55% of the bugs carry a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes Chagas disease, an illness that can become fatal.

So, here's all you need to know about the creature that's been named one of the "most dangerous critters in texas" and one of the "deadliest insects in the world."

What states are kissing bugs found in?

Besides the Lone Star State, kissing bugs can be found in 28 other states around the United States, with most species living in the south.

Scientists estimate about 11 different kinds of kissing bugs can be found in the States, predominantly in states like Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

Kissing bugs also have a big presence in rural areas of South and Central America.

What does the kissing bug do to humans?

The bugs, infected or not, have a painless bite when feeding on hosts, but not quite like the blood-thirsty grip of a tick.

Typically, when they bite, they'll also defecate (ew!), and that's when the parasite comes into contact with the host's bloodstream, infecting the animal or person.

Following the infection, the person has a chance of manifesting some concrete symptoms of sickness, but the most serious part of the disease usually unfolds over a long period of time.

"After the T. cruzi parasite enters the body, about 1 out of 3 people develop the chronic phase of Chagas disease," the TAMU scientists say. "The chronic phase can take many years to develop — some people have the chronic phase for decades after the parasite enters their body."

The World Health Organization estimates that around 30,000 new cases are identified every year in the Americas, and Chagas results in a yearly average of 14,000 deaths.

What are the symptoms of Chagas disease?

"There are two phases of Chagas disease," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "The acute phase and the chronic phase. Both phases can be symptom-free or life-threatening."

The acute phase lasts for a few weeks or months, presenting symptoms as mild as "fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting" or even none at all. Sometimes mild cases will experience the recognizable "Romaña's sign," which is the swelling of the eyelid.

The acute phase may also have more serious implications in children and immunocompromised people.

However, the CDC reports that in the silent but potentially deadlier chronic phase, 20-30% of infected people develop serious cardiac or gastrointestinal complications.

Some infected people have died from heart failure, sudden heart attacks and enlarged colon complications in the chronic phase of the disease.

How do you treat Chagas disease?

If you think you have Chagas disease from a kissing bug, you should first see a doctor.

The CDC's suggested treatment involves two choices: an anti-parasitic treatment to kill the T. cruzi parasite, or any treatment targeting specific symptoms and signs of infection that can be related to Chagas.

How common is Chagas disease in Texas?

You might be at least a little relieved to know that it's "uncommon" to contract the disease in the state, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

A 2018 Caller Timesarticle reported researchers estimating that about one in 6,500 Texans are infected, although most show no symptoms.

Brittany Cristiano
Texas Staff Writer
Brittany Cristiano was a Staff Writer for Narcity’s USA Desk focused on viral TikToks, and trending local characters in the Southern United States. She is based in Houston, Texas.