Topic Overview

What are kissing bugs?

Adult kissing bugs are winged insects that are about 2 cm (0.75 in.) long. Kissing bugs are dark brown or black with red or orange spots along the edge of their bodies. They are also called assassin bugs or cone-nosed bugs. Like mosquitoes, kissing bugs feed on blood from animals or people.

Kissing bugs have that name because their bites are often found around the mouth. They usually hide during the day and are active at night when they feed. They can go for weeks without feeding.

Kissing bugs can carry a parasite that causes Chagas disease, but this is not common in the United States. Itching from the bites can be so bad that some people will scratch enough to cause breaks in the skin that get infected easily. The bites can also cause a serious allergic reaction in some people.

Where can you find kissing bugs?

Kissing bugs are found in warm southern states of the U.S. and in Mexico, Central America, and South America.

Kissing bugs can hide in cracks and holes in beds, floors, walls, and furniture. They are most likely to be found:

  • Near places where a pet, such as a dog or cat, spends time.
  • In areas where mice or other rodents live.
  • Near beds, especially under mattresses or on furniture close to the bed.

How do you know if you have kissing bugs?

Kissing bugs can cause patches of bites, often around the mouth. The bites are usually painless, but they may swell and look like hives. Itching from the bites may last a week.

Look also for these other signs:

  • The bugs themselves, especially in your mattress or pillow.
  • Tiny bloodstains on sheets and pillows.

How can you treat kissing bug bites?

Home treatment can help stop the itching and prevent an infection. You can:

    • Wash the bites with clean water twice a day.
    • After washing, wipe area with rubbing alcohol or first-aid antiseptic.
    • Trim fingernails to prevent scratching, which can lead to an infection.
    • Do not break any blisters that develop.
    • Apply an ice pack to a bite or sting for 15 to 20 minutes once an hour for the first 6 hours. When not using ice, keep a cool, wet cloth on the bite or sting for up to 6 hours. Always keep a cloth between your skin and the ice pack. Do not apply ice for longer than 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Do not fall asleep with the ice on your skin. 
    • Elevate the area of the bite or sting to decrease swelling. 
    • Try a non-prescription medicine for the relief of itching, redness, and swelling. Be sure to follow the non-prescription medicine precautions. 
    • An antihistamine taken by mouth, such as Benadryl or Chlor-Tripolon, may help relieve itching, redness, and swelling. Don't give antihistamines to your child unless you've checked with the doctor first.
    • Use calamine lotion or an anti-itch cream, such as hydrocortisone to stop the itching. You can also hold an oatmeal-soaked face cloth on the itchy area for 15 minutes. You can buy an oatmeal powder, such as Aveeno Colloidal Oatmeal, in drugstores. Or you can make your own oatmeal solution. Wrap 1 cup of oatmeal in a cotton cloth, and boil it for a few minutes until it is soft.
    • See your doctor if you think the bite may be infected, you are experiencing signs of an allergic reaction or you believe you may be infected with Chagas disease. 

How do you get rid of kissing bugs?

Kissing bugs can be hard to get rid of. Bugs can hide in cracks and crevices in the mattress, bed frame, and box spring. They can spread into cracks and crevices in the room and lay their eggs. For these reasons, it is best to call a professional insect control company for treatment choices. The usual treatment is the use of an insecticide that kills the bugs. It is best to prevent bugs from getting into your house:

  • Seal gaps around windows and doors. Fill in any holes or cracks in walls or screens that could let kissing bugs into your house.
  • Let your pets sleep inside, especially at night. Keep pets from sleeping in a bedroom. Keep clean areas where your pet sleeps.
  • Clean up any piles of wood or rocks that are up against your house.

Credits

Adaptation Date: 11/27/2017

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Date: 11/27/2017

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC