NewsLocal News


Blood-sucking bugs which can pass on lifelong disease discovered in Nebraska

Nebraska Kissing Bugs.png
Posted at 2:11 PM, Jun 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-14 15:11:45-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — During the hot and humid summers common to the area, mosquitoes are bad enough. Now the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) says another blood-sucking insect has decided to make Nebraskans a source of food — and it can infect you with a lifelong disease.

According to a release from the DHHS, entomologists from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and University of Nebraska-Lincoln Department of Entomology discovered kissing bugs for the first time in Nebraska during 2020.

“Kissing bug is the common name for a group of bugs called triatomines,” said the DHHS. “These are blood-sucking insects that are found across the Southern United States, Mexico, Central, and South America especially during the summer months. The species recently detected in Nebraska was identified as Triatoma sanguisuga or the Eastern blood-sucking conenose. This species has been found as far north as Pennsylvania and as far west as Texas.”

In addition to sucking our precious blood, kissing bugs also carry a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi for short) which can cause Chagas disease. The DHHS said about 25% of people who are infected with Chagas disease “develop serious chronic disease, so early diagnosis is important.”

Some of the parasites studied in Nebraska were carrying the parasite.

While the presence of the parasites is uncommon, the DHHS said it’s important to raise awareness about the bug and disease to give people the best chance of fighting off a chronic condition of the Chagas disease.

During the early or acute phase of Chagas disease, someone may develop swelling around the bite site.

During the chronic phase, there are often no symptoms and people may be unaware that they’re infected. In fact, they may have no symptoms or the rest of their lives. For the unlucky 20-30%, the disease could be fatal due to heart rhythm abnormalities and dilated hearts which don’t pump blood well.

People with compromised immune systems are especially at risk, said the DHHS.

If you find a kissing bug, the DHHS said not to panic and that a person would likely need to be bitten several times and that it would require the bugs to defecate in a wound or mucus membranes.

If you or someone you know has been bitten by one, the DHHS recommends having it tested for the parasite. You can do so by contacting the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Vector-Borne Disease Program at 402-471-2937.

If the bug tests positive, you must wait “until past the 8–10 weeks of the acute phase before testing for antibodies.” Testing prematurely could lead to a false positive and “must” be confirmed before treatment can be provided.

Kissing bugs not suspected of biting someone can be sent to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Insect Diagnostician Kyle Koch for identification by calling 402-472-8691.

For more information on kissing bugs and Chagas bugs, click here.

For health providers seeking more information, click here.

Download our apps today for all of our latest coverage.

Get the latest news and weather delivered straight to your inbox.