Assassin Bugs and Disease

vector for Chagas' Disease
Triatoma infestans or the “Kissing Bug”, is a vector for Chagas’ Disease

The Assassin Bug is named not only for its indiscriminate feeding practices, but also for the dangerous mix of diseases it carries. These bugs will feast on any warm blood they can find, drinking up to nine times their weight in blood and they have a tendency to feed around its victim’s mouth earning it the nickname the “kissing bug.”

 

The bite from an assassin bug causes no pain, as they need time to feed without alerting their victim. This also allows them to transmit a parasite that causes the potentially deadly disease, Chagas, a disorder that does damage to major organs and can be fatal to humans and other animals. The assassin bug picks up the parasite while feeding on an infected host. The parasite then develops and multiplies in the gut of the assassin bug and then is excreted in its feces. Assassin bugs usually defecate while feeding on a near a person, usually while the person is sleeping. People do not get ill from the bite of the assassin bug, but by scratching a bite site and pushing the infected feces into the open wound. The disease is less common in the U.S. because most homes are built to stop bugs from entering. Also, the North American species of assassin bug tends to wait a half hour after biting to do its business – so it is usually away from its victim.

chagas disease
Symptoms of Chagas Disease

 

While about three hundred thousand people in the United States are infected with Chagas, up to eleven million people in Latin America suffer from the disease where the incidence of exposure is greater. The assassin bug is not shy about taking up residence anywhere that is close to a source of food, such as animal burrows, cracks or crevices, in rodent nests, near outdoor dog houses or chicken coops. In a severe infestation it is not uncommon for up to 20 bugs to feed on a single individual, taking up to three milliliters of blood per night! Thankfully, not all assassin bugs are infected with this parasite.