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Oklahoma State University
Center For Veterinary Health Sciences

Healthy Animals - Healthy People

Kissing Bug Research

We are currently collecting kissing bugs from Oklahoma and surrounding areas. We test voluntarily submitted kissing bugs by PCR to detect DNA of Trypanosoma cruzi, the causative parasite of Chagas disease. Upon request, PCR is available to identify the animal species of the kissing bug's recent blood-meal.

Below are maps of Oklahoma counties from which we have received kissing bugs (yellow) and counties in which at least one kissing bug tested positive for T. cruzi DNA (red).

 

kissing bug submissions mapMap 1: Counties in Oklahoma from which kissing bugs have been submitted as part of our survey study (updated September 2018)

 

positive kissing bugs map

Map 2: Counties in Oklahoma from which at least one bug tested positive for Trypanosoma cruzi DNA by PCR (September 2018)

Submit a Suspected Kissing Bug

kissing bugs
A photomicrograph of an adult and immature kissing bug.

What does a kissing bug look like?

This is a photomicrograph of an adult and immature kissing bug. Note the elongated head, giving it the common name “cone-nosed bug.” Adults of a the predominant kissing bug species found in Oklahoma, Triatoma sanguisuga, have a characteristic orange and black striping pattern on their dorsal side. Several other insect species resemble kissing bugs but are harmless to humans and dogs.

Why the name "kissing" bug?

The common name “kissing bug” is attributed to several characteristic behaviors of the insect. Similar to some other arthropods, kissing bugs are thought to respond to carbon dioxide. The act of breathing and exhalation by a host creates an increased concentration of carbon dioxide near the face, which attracts kissing bugs. Also, kissing bugs are nocturnal and tend to feed during nighttime. Humans often sleep with sheets, blankets, etc…protecting their bodies with their heads uncovered, thus leaving their faces exposed and vulnerable to kissing bugs seeking blood-meals.

Is Chagas disease in the United States?

Yes, however Chagas disease is considered a neglected tropical disease in the U.S., with inadequate funding vested in surveillance and research efforts when compared to other infectious diseases. An estimated 300,000 people in the United States are infected with Trypanosoma cruzi, most of whom are believed to have been exposed elsewhere, likely in endemic areas of Mexico, Central America, or South America. Potentially confounding more accurate prevalence estimations in the U.S. are the latent phase of Chagas disease, which is lifelong in many patients, and chronic disease manifestations occurring in patients years to decades after infection (~30 percent of infected individuals).

Transmission of T. cruzi to humans and domestic dogs is rare in the U.S. in comparison to endemic regions of Latin America due to generally improved domicile conditions, which reduce the potential for kissing bug infiltration and infestation. However, locally acquired human Chagas cases have been reported in several states and canine cases have been widely documented throughout the South. Known wildlife reservoir hosts of the parasite are common in south-central and southern states, and at least 11 kissing bug species are present in the United States, nine of which have been found to be naturally infected with T. cruzi.

How is chagas disease transmitted?

The causative agent of Chagas disease, Trypanosoma cruzi, is transmitted to humans and canines by infected kissing bugs. Other animal species can also become infected with the parasite. Infected kissing bugs harbor T. cruzi in their digestive tract. Transmission of the Chagas parasite occurs when fecal material deposited on or near a host by an infected kissing bug is rubbed into the bite site, other wound, or mucosal membrane.