Kissing bugs and the Chagas Disease Threat in Ventura County

Kissing bugs and the Chagas Disease Threat in Ventura County

Over the years, I’ve run into kissing bugs several times. It’s always by accident when investigating a bed bug complaint and always in Thousand Oaks. This, however, shouldn’t be interpreted as “kissing bugs are only in Thousand Oaks”. It simply means that that’s only where I’ve identified them. I’m not tasked with collecting insect samples nor actively searching for kissing bugs. My experience is only within the realm of investigating bed bug complaints or bed bug treatment. It stands to reason that if they can live in Thousand Oaks, then they can live elsewhere in Ventura County. If you suspect that you have kissing bugs in Ventura, it’s important to call the professionals at Spearhead Pest Control to guide you.

What are “kissing bugs”?

They are true bugs (meaning they have a sucking mouth part) that sometimes feed on humans near the face or lips, hence the moniker Kissing bugs. They are also called cone nose bugs, Mexican bed bugs or, more accurately, triatomines. It’s important to note that their colors may vary from photos you find on the internet. What makes them of particular interest is that they sometimes feed on humans or pets, and that they spread a potentially fatal disease called Chagas. Of the 12 species of triatomines that occur in United States, the most important epidemiologically are Triatoma rubida and Triatoma protracta in Arizona and California. There are also growing populations and infections in Texas. Adults can fly and may be attracted to homes by porch lights. They are common in the nests of pack rats but can feed on a wide variety of mammals.

What is Chagas?

The disease itself is actually the result of infection by a parasite these bugs can carry called Trypanosoma cruzi. The parasite lives in the digestive system of the kissing bugs and is passed on to humans or pets when the kissing bug defecates or urinates into a fresh wound caused by its bite, literally adding insult to injury. Or the parasite can be absorbed into the mucous membranes around the nose or mouth. Not every bite results in an infection and not every infection results in someone being sick with Chagas. One could be infected for decades before showing symptoms. Only about 10% or so of those infected will get very sick. About 35% will develop heart problems. Some will die. The parasites tend to take up residence in the heart and digestive muscle tissue and cause death by progressive destruction of these tissues.

The Olive View UCLA Chagas specialists estimate that 1 in 5 heart failure patients in LA County is infected with Chagas. In Central and South America Chagas is a serious problem with almost 10 million people infected. A 2015 study found 1 in every 6500 Texas blood donors were infected. The CDC is currently doing more research to get a better handle on how many are infected. Part of the problem is the lack of knowledge and experience in the medical community with Chagas. Another problem is the 20-30 year dormancy of the parasite while it slowly causes heart or digestive problems.

How can you prevent kissing bugs in Ventura?

The World Health Organization suggests pest control, specifically residual pesticide barriers like those professionally applied by Spearhead Pest Control. We have experience with this exact type of bug in Ventura County and luckily their habits are quite similar to their cousin, the bed bug. We are the only pest control company with a comprehensive, kissing bug targeted program. Call us today for a consultation!

What if I’m bit by a kissing bug?

It’s best to stay calm and get to your doctor. It’s unlikely your doctor will have experience with Chagas but there are definitely tests for antibodies. The earlier you can get treatment, the better. You may be referred to an infectious disease specialist. If your doctor is unsure where to turn, direct them to Olive View UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar.

What about my pet?

Even less is known in veterinary circles but that’s your best place to start. Call your vet. Cardiac tissue degeneration can sometimes be corrected by a pacemaker or if caught early, medications. Your pets are particularly at risk if they live outdoors because their odors, carbon dioxide output, and body heat will be attractive to kissing bugs. Pets are difficult to diagnose because they can’t communicate their symptoms. They rely heavily on us to make the right decisions for them.
Please call your Ventura pest control expert if you run out of options and I will personally help you. At Spearhead Pest Control, we understand the stress and strain uncontrolled pest problems can cause your family or business. As an independently owned and family operated business, Spearhead Pest Control offers competitive rates with friendly and professional service. We remain committed to providing the highest quality extermination and pest control in Oxnard, Ventura, Camarillo, and our surrounding communities.

– Rudy Ayala

Owner Spearhead Pest Control

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