Have you ever had a close encounter with an assassin bug in your garden? Most seasoned gardeners know these bugs are important predators of common garden pests.
Even though they have a painful bite, for most folks, the occasional run-in is worth the temporary pain in the long term.
But there are so many different kinds of assassin bug out there, like the kissing bug. Are any of these assassin bug bites dangerous? And is the bite of the kissing bug in particular dangerous?
Kissing bug bites rarely cause any significant damage and often go undetected. However, kissing bugs may transmit the Chagas disease, which entails serious flu-like symptoms at first and can eventually cause organ failure.
Kissing bugs are stealthy, mostly nocturnal blood-sucking parasites that are truly disgusting, and they are one of the most significant vectors of Chagas disease in the United States.
As gross as it is to have kissing bugs in your house, the threat they can pose to your long-term health is far worse, so they should be exterminated with extreme prejudice.
Keep reading, and I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the dangers of kissing bug bites…
What Do Assassin Bugs Look Like?
Assassin bugs don’t have one distinct appearance, because they actually constitute a humongous family of true bugs belonging to the order Hemiptera.
That being said, except for some distinguished individual species most are pretty easy to recognize by their build: they are sturdy, stout bugs with one or more flanges on their abdomen.
Colors range from reds and browns to black, tan, green, and more.
These bugs stand over the ground on six crooked legs, and all feature a narrow neck with a “snout” that is vaguely triangular or cone-shaped.
All of them have a proportionally thick, curved, folding mouth part known as a proboscis. You can usually spot this part folded up under the body of the assassin bug if you look closely, and it extends down or outward when they are ready to bite.
This proboscis is a straw-like sucking apparatus of the same type used by mosquitoes and other parasitic critters.
To feed, assassin bugs stab their prey with it, paralyzing them with an injected toxin. The innards of the prey is then slowly liquefied, with the resulting slurry being sucked out through the proboscis. A bad way to go!
Are Assassin Bug Bites Dangerous?
All this talk of injecting toxin and sucking up bug guts would naturally lead you to think that assassin bugs can and will bite people, and you’d be correct.
However, the vast majority of these bugs don’t want to bite you because they don’t feed on blood (though they will bite sometimes if handled or to defend themselves).
If this happens, it’s going to hurt. You don’t need to worry about your internals being dissolved away like the bug’s insect prey, but the toxins will cause considerable pain at the bite site and often localized swelling, inflammation, and more.
That said, unless you’re allergic or sensitive to the toxin, or unless it becomes infected, you’ll probably suffer no worse effects.
If you’re bitten by an assassin bug, thoroughly wash the bite site and keep an eye on it. If the pain does not subside over time or if it starts to get worse, seek medical attention.
Are Kissing Bugs Different from Assassin Bugs?
Kissing bugs make up a subfamily of assassin bugs, Triatominae, and so share their characteristics with one exceptional difference: kissing bugs are bloodsuckers, just like mosquitoes.
But these bugs are much bigger so they drink drastically more blood when feeding compared to a mere mosquito.
And it is kissing bugs that actually view humans, along with all other warm-blooded vertebrate animals, as prey.
Are Kissing Bugs Attracted to People?
Yes. Kissing bugs are definitely attracted to people. If they are in and around human habitation, it is only a matter of time before a kissing bug bites you.
Kissing bugs are nocturnal predators, typically hiding during the day and emerging at night when temperatures are cooler and hunting is easier.
An adult kissing bug has many senses that allow it to home in on its prey, including surprisingly sensitive and acute olfactory glands, and the ability to sense nearby sources of heat.
These insidious parasites also home in on the carbon dioxide emissions of mammals and other trace gasses contained in their very breath.
They also sense, if you can believe it, oils and acids that are omitted through our skin in perspiration!
And, their very favorite prey is prey that is asleep. You’re most likely to be bitten by a kissing bug while you are taking a nap or tucked into your bed. Believe me, they’ll find you…
Putting the “Kiss” in Kissing Bug…
As horrifying as this sounds, we are only about halfway through this nightmare. Kissing bugs got their name, their common name, from their tendency to bite people around their mouths and their eyes.
Both sites are soft and moist, highly vascular, and also sources of emissions that will attract these bugs.
That, and they’re most likely to be exposed when a person is under the covers in bed asleep.
Exactly what you are imagining is what happens when a kissing bug attacks you in the night: it will crawl up to your face, bite you near the mouth or eye, and then grow bloated and fat on your blood.
Are Kissing Bug Bites Painful?
Kissing bug bites may be painful, but they usually aren’t. Most people sleep straight through them.
It is thought that the kissing bug is a delicate and shallow feeder, and the nature of the attack is unlikely to disturb a person who is asleep or distracted.
That being said, because they don’t inject the same type of dissolving toxin that typical assassin bugs do, even if you do notice the bite, it won’t hurt nearly as badly as one from their cousins.
This doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous, though!
What are the Symptoms of a Kissing Bug Bite?
Assuming you can positively confirm that the bite came from a kissing bug, the symptoms are typically going to be very minor.
You might notice a red mark or even a tiny droplet of blood from a larger specimen left behind at the bite site. Some localized redness and possibly itchiness may occur.
In some cases, or for sensitive individuals, or those who are allergic to the secretions of a kissing bug the bite site might swell, grow tender and become highly itchy.
It’s worth noting that, in rare cases, a kissing bug bite can cause anaphylaxis.
If you notice any difficulty breathing, falling blood pressure, dizziness, all-over itchiness, a pins and needles sensation or any other significant symptoms in the immediate aftermath of a bite, seek emergency medical attention at once.
Can Kissing Bugs Kill People?
No, not typically aside from rare instances of anaphylactic shock with fatal complications. The overwhelming majority of kissing bug bites are not medically significant, even in the case of multiple bites.
However, as I mentioned up above, kissing bugs are significant vectors in the United States of the dreaded Chagas disease.
This disease can have fatal consequences stemming from organ failure if untreated.
What is Chagas Disease?
A disease that is not very common and generally poorly understood by the average person in America, Chagas is a parasitic disease contracted in the aftermath of a bite but is spread by the feces of the bug doing the biting.
What are the Symptoms of Chagas Disease?
The disease has two distinct phases: the first usually shows comprehensive flu symptoms and gastrointestinal problems, including pronounced fatigue, fever, rashes, diarrhea, vomiting, and swelling of the lymph nodes.
In instances where the parasite entered the body near the eyes, as kissing bugs are want to do, the eyelids may become swollen and droopy.
But it is the second phase, also called the chronic phase, that is so serious. If left untreated, damage to the organs and cardiovascular system is highly likely and can result in death.
Symptoms include heart failure, arrhythmia, blood clotting, heart attack and enlargement of the esophagus, colon or heart.
Long-term Complications of Chagas Disease Can Kill!
If you couldn’t tell from the previous section, undetected and untreated Chagas disease can easily prove fatal.
Worse, these fatal complications can arise long, long after the initial bite that infected you occurred.
That’s because the parasite can stay in your body for many years, even decades, undetected and without causing any symptoms. The initial flu-like symptoms might not even occur!
Your best defense is early detection, made difficult by the lack of symptoms. Blood tests can detect the parasite, and if caught early drugs are effective, both for managing symptoms and for eliminating the parasite from the body.
But, the longer the parasite has been present in the body, the more resistant it is to treatment.
If you live in an area with kissing bugs and suspect you have been bitten, it’s critical that you get routine blood work done by your doctor to catch it, and it’s a good idea to get an initial screening done if you know you’ve been bitten.
Chagas is very rare in the United States, and infection rarely occurs in the US even in areas where kissing bugs are common.
However, it is far more common in Central and South America. All told, throughout the Americas there are around 30,000 new cases of Chagas each and every year, and at least 12,000 deaths stemming from infection.
It is thought that at least 6 million people are currently infected, whether or not they are showing acute symptoms.
The lethal consequences of the disease mean you must take all instances seriously!
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.