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What are kissing bugs?
Kissing bugs are wingless insects that are about 0.75 in. (1.9 cm) 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 kissing bugs are found
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.
Signs of 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 from kissing bug bites and prevent an infection. You can:
- Wash the bites with soap to lower the chance of infection.
- Use calamine lotion or an anti-itch cream to stop the itching. You can also hold an oatmeal-soaked washcloth 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 (0.2 L) of oatmeal in a cotton cloth, and boil it for a few minutes until it is soft.
- Use an ice pack to stop the swelling.
- See your doctor if you think the bite may be infected.
Getting 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.
Current as of: March 3, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor MD - Emergency Medicine
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