Expert weighs in on “kissing bug” sightings

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The so-called “kissing bugs” have been invading headlines for the past two weeks as the CDC has reported the deadly bug has made its way into the United States.

The bug’s feces contain a parasite that carries Chagas, a disease that can kill if left untreated.

“They are not invading from South America,” Virginia Health Department entomologist David Gaines said.

Gaines said he has received some samples of what people thought were kissing bugs, but were in fact wheel bugs, which are in the same family and are common around the state.

“It’s commonly mistaken for a kissing bug, but a wheel bug has a spiky semi-circle sticking out of its back that looks like kind of the spikes on a stegosaurus dinosaur,” Gaines said.

WRIC-TV also showed Gaines a number of viewer pics sent to the station claiming it was the kissing bug.

“Yeah definite wheel bugs,” Gaines said in response to the photos.

Gaines said there are some tell-tale signs. Wheel bugs are found outside during the day, while kissing bugs are nocturnal and look for holes and crevices.

“If you find bugs inside your home, then that’s a slightly greater concern,” Gaines said.

Gaines said you can always call pest control to get rid of the bugs and ask the local or state health department to look at a sample or picture. If you are bit, Gaines says don’t panic.

“There’s a misunderstanding in the public that the bug can transmit the disease by just a bite, and that’s just not true.”

Gaines says the feces is what carries the deadly disease, not the bite. He says kissing bugs in North America don’t usually secrete while feeding, so the chances of catching it are extremely slim. For more information about kissing bugs and what to look for, click here.

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