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CDC confirms dangerous 'kissing bug' spreading north again

A Delaware girl was bitten on the face by the bloodsucking insect that is usually found in southern areas.
/ Source: TODAY

Bloodsucking insects known as "kissing bugs," because of their tendency to bite people around the mouth, are spreading across the country after working their way north from South America.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed last week that a girl in Delaware was bitten by one of the critters, which are formally known as triatomine bugs.

Panstrongylus megistus, triatomine bug
The triatomine bug got its nickname, the kissing bug, because of where the insect likes to bite people. Alamy

The case was reported in July 2018 when a Delaware family requested help from state health and agriculture officials to identify the insect that bit the girl on the face as she watched television in her bedroom.

The bugs can spread a parasite that causes Chagas' disease through its feces. The disease can be spread when the bug "poops on or near a person while it is feeding on (their) blood, usually when the person is sleeping," according to the CDC. Transmission occurs "when poop is accidentally rubbed into the bite wound or into a mucous membrane (for example, the eye or mouth), and the parasite enters the body."

But the CDC said not all triatomine bugs are infected with the parasite that causes Chagas' disease. The disease can be dangerous, but chances of contracting it are low, according to the agency.

This map details where triatomine "kissing" bugs have been found in the United States.
This map details where triatomine "kissing" bugs have been found in the United States.CDC

In the early phase of Chagas' disease, a person may have no symptoms or mild ones, including fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting. Since the symptoms are similar to those of other illnesses, many people do not know they may have a parasitic infection, the CDC said.

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

The recent spread of triatomine bugs is not the first time the insects have traveled north. In 2014, the kissing bugs showed up in the southern half of the U.S. The 2018 case in Delaware has been the northernmost case so far. There are 11 species of triatomine bugs across the country.

Adult kissing bugs are generally larger than a penny and may have an orange-striped band around the edge of their bodies. The CDC advises against touching or squashing a suspected triatomine bug. Instead, the agency suggests placing it in a container, and then filling it with rubbing alcohol or freezing it. The bug should then be taken to a local extension service, health department or university laboratory for identification.