Has the “kissing bug” made its way to Jacksonville?

By Gary Scott on December 2, 2015 at 12:10pm

WLDS-WEAI News received an email from someone at MacMurray College on Monday, with the title “Kissing Bug?” featuring a picture of what appeared to be the insect that has Illinoisans buzzing.

Although the bug is a much more serious health issue in Latin America, reports of the bug have been made in the St. Louis and Chicago areas, as well as Champaign.

The “kissing” bug spreads the fatal Chagas disease, generally by biting the face or lip area, and then defecating into the wounded area.

But! Not to worry, at least with this particular case. Dr. Larry Zettler, an entomologist at Illinois College, says he believes the bug in the picture is the “wheel bug”. He says it’s in the same family, and you should still avoid it.

“The wheel bug, if you grab them and they put their little beak in your finger, it can really hurt,” he says. “It takes about a week, at least in my case, for the pain to go away.”

However, Zettler says the kissing bug has been in Jacksonville.

“There’s two examples of kissing bug species that should be in our part of the woods here. One is found in Illinois, it has been here for quite some time. About two years ago, I was sitting in my living room here in town at nighttime, and one of them flew on to the wall, and it surprised me, because, when I go to Costa Rica with my class, we see kissing bugs quite frequently, and it kind of raised my eyebrow when I saw it here in Illinois,” he says.

“But we do have kissing bugs here, they’re just not as frequent, and thankfully the parasites that cause Chagas disease that they carry, there’s not a high rate of the parasites in the bugs.”

Symptoms of Chagas disease can include fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The infection could lead to cardiac and intestinal complications.


A picture of the actual kissing bug, from the CDC website.

Now apparently, the bug that was featured in the picture sent to us- whether it was a kissing bug, or as Dr. Zettler believes, a wheel bug- apparently got away. It was indicated to us that no one touched it. What’s the proper protocol?

“Do not smush it. A lot of people, they say crush it like a roach, step on it. Don’t crunch it with your shoe and pick it up, or anything like that. I would just say take a wet paper towel, and when it’s released, just put the paper towel over it, and you can release it outdoors. You can throw some rubbing alcohol on it and kill it, and dispose of it with a paper towel and put it in a garbage can, or something like that,” Zettler says.

Kissing bugs and wheel bugs are part of the Reduviidae family. Dr. Zettler says if you see a bug that has red banding patterns on its side, that’s more likely to be a kissing bug.

The Centers for Disease Control says you should seal any cracks or gaps you might have around the house as one of the ways to prevent the bug from affecting you.

You can listen to the full interview with Zettler as part of Wednesday’s edition of “What’s On Your Mind?” below: