Triatomine Bug FAQs
What is a triatomine bug and what does it look like?
Various triatomine bugs in all life stages, from eggs to nymphs to fully grown adults. A variety of bug species, that share similar traits, are pictured.
Triatomine bugs are a type of reduviid bug that can carry Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease.
Where are triatomine bugs typically found?
Triatomine bugs (also called “kissing bugs”, cone-nosed bugs, and blood suckers) can live indoors, in cracks and holes of substandard housing, or in a variety of outdoor settings including the following:
- Beneath porches
- Between rocky structures
- Under cement
- In rock, wood, brush piles, or beneath bark
- In rodent nests or animal burrows
- In outdoor dog houses or kennels
- In chicken coops or houses
They are typically found in the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America (as far south as southern Argentina). The map below details triatomine occurrence by U.S. state.
Eleven different species of triatomine bugs have been found in the southern United States:
Triatomines are mostly active at night and feed on the blood of mammals (including humans), birds, and reptiles. Triatomine bugs live in a wide range of environmental settings, generally within close proximity to an animal the bug can feed on, called a blood host. In areas of Latin America where human Chagas disease is an important public health problem, the bugs nest in cracks and holes of substandard housing.
Because most indoor structures in the United States are built with plastered walls and sealed entryways to prevent insect invasion, triatomine bugs rarely infest indoor areas of houses. Discovery of the earlier stages of the bug (wingless, smaller nymphs) inside can be a sign of a triatomine infestation. When the bugs are found inside, they are likely to be in one of the following settings:
- Near the places your pets sleep
- In areas of rodent infestation
- In and around beds and bedrooms, especially under or near mattresses or night stands
How can I keep triatomine bugs away from my home?
Synthetic pyrethroid bug sprays have been used successfully in Latin America to get rid of house infestations. Although similar chemicals are available in the United States, none have been specifically approved for use against triatomine bugs. A licensed pest control operator should be consulted before using any insecticides to kill triatomine bugs. Roach hotels or other “bait” formulations do not work against triatomine bugs. Long lasting insecticide treated bednets and curtains have been shown to kill these bugs.
Other precautions to prevent house infestation include the following:
- Sealing cracks and gaps around windows, walls, roofs, and doors
- Removing wood, brush, and rock piles near your house
- Using screens on doors and windows and repairing any holes or tears
- If possible, making sure yard lights are not close to your house (lights can attract the bugs)
- Sealing holes and cracks leading to the attic, crawl spaces below the house, and to the outside
- Having pets sleep indoors, especially at night
- Keeping your house and any outdoor pet resting areas clean, in addition to periodically checking both areas for the presence of bugs
I think I found a triatomine bug. What should I do?
If you find a bug you suspect is a triatomine, do not touch or squash it. Place a container on top of the bug, slide the bug inside, and fill it with rubbing alcohol or, if not available, freeze the bug in the container. Then, you may take it to your local extension service, health department, or a university laboratory for identification.
Surfaces that have come into contact with the bug should be cleaned with a solution made of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water (or 7 parts ethanol to 3 parts water).
Triatoma sanguisuga Credit: CDC, courtesy of James Gathany
Triatoma gerstaeckeri next to a penny for scale. Credit: S. Kjos
Triatoma protracta Credit: CDC, courtesy of James Gathany
How can I tell if the bug I’ve found is a triatomine and not another kind of bug?
There are many beetles and non-triatomine reduviid bugs that resemble the triatomine bug. Two examples of non-triatomine reduviid bugs that do not feed on human blood, but prey upon other insects are the wheel bug and the western corsair. Some plant-feeding bugs, such as the leaf-footed bug also resemble the triatomine. If you are unsure if the bug you’ve found is a triatomine, you may wish to consult with an expert, such as an entomologist, for clarification.
Can I get Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease, from a triatomine bug?
Yes. However, the transmission of the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite from a bug to a human is not easy. The parasite that causes the disease is in the bug feces. The bug generally poops on or near a person while it is feeding on her blood, usually when the person is sleeping. Transmission of the parasite happens 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.
It is important to note that not all triatomine bugs are infected with the parasite that causes Chagas disease. The likelihood of getting T cruzi infection from a triatomine bug in the United States is low, even if the bug is infected.
Could I be allergic to the bite of a triatomine bug?
Yes. The saliva of certain types of triatomines can cause an allergic reaction in some people. An allergic reaction can have severe redness, itching, swelling, welts, hives, or, rarely, anaphylactic shock (severe allergic reaction). People with a history of anaphylactic shock should consult a physician to obtain medication to use in case of a bite. It is important to note that not all triatomines are infected with the parasite even though their saliva may cause an allergic reaction.
An allergic reaction after a triatomine bite does not mean that you have been infected with the parasite T cruzi, the cause of Chagas disease. The swelling that may develop at the site of parasite inoculation (where the parasite entered the body through the skin or mucous membranes) is called a chagoma. When the parasite enters the body through the eye, the swelling around the eye is called Romaña’s sign. Chagomas, including Romaña’s sign, usually last longer than an allergic reaction and are less likely to be severely itchy.
What do I do if I think I may have Chagas disease?
If you suspect you have Chagas disease, consult your health-care provider. Or, to find a physician familiar with diagnosis and treatment of Chagas disease and other parasitic infections, ask your general practitioner or primary care physician for a referral. You may wish to consider visiting a physician who specializes in infectious diseases. To locate a clinician in your area, please visit the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene’s Clinical Consultants Directory.