Browsing through the Rentokil pest guides, I came across a weird insect called the Triatomine bug. The name rang a bell, because some friend of mine who had travelled South America had told me about it. Before this time, however, I just thought of it as some holiday myth or yet another way to spice up holiday stories.
The common name of this insect is the Kissing Bug, and adversely to what the name suggests, the story connected to the name is everything but romantic. These bugs look somewhat similar to bedbugs, but are much larger in size (around 2cm). Like bedbugs, mosquitoes and ticks, kissing bugs feed on blood, both of animals and humans.
So, why the name kissing bug? They have earned their name because their preferred spot to take a blood meal is on our face, often near the mouth. They usually do this while we are sound asleep, and take up to 25 minutes for their meal (compared to mosquitoes these guys are true aficionados). As if this is not bad news enough, kissing bugs are also responsible for the transmission of Chagas disease.
Humans get the disease because after having fed, the kissing bug defecates. If the feces get in touch with the wound or mucous membranes, humans get infected. It is quite difficult to treat, and can be fatal in the long run. There are quite a number of infected people in Middle and South America.
This might come as a slight relief, but then again there are innumerous other diseases transmitted by pests. Malaria, Dengue and Chikungunya can be transmitted by mosquitoes; or Leptospirosis and Hanta-viral infections transmitted by rodents; Cholera and Dysentery by flies, and many, many more.